PARIS (AFP) – Bill Beaumont has promised to make international rugby union less of a ‘closed shop’ should he be re-elected as chairman of World Rugby.
The 68-year-old former England captain is seeking a second four-year term as head of the sport’s global governing body but faces a challenge from Argentina great Agustin Pichot, the current vice-chairman, for the top job.
Both of rugby union’s major annual international championships, Europe’s Six Nations and the southern hemisphere’s Rugby Championship, do not currently have promotion and relegation.
Critics argue this is hampering the 15-a-side code’s development as a truly global sport, with nations such as Georgia and Fiji desperately trying to get game time against leading nations in between the showpiece World Cup, which takes place every four years.
Beaumont said he sympathised with emerging, or Tier Two nations as they are known, telling AFP in a telephone interview on Thursday (April 23): “We will change the schedule to ensure that in the World Cup warm-up games that we have Tier One teams playing Tier Two nations to help them in their warm-up.
“But also what we want to do is invest in the regions to ensure they are better funded and that teams have better opportunities to be better prepared.”
Beaumont was behind a plan last year for a new two-tier global Nations Championship encompassing the Six Nations and the Rugby Championship that would have featured promotion and relegation.
But the scheme collapsed amid reports the likes of Scotland feared the possibility of being demoted to the second tier.
Nevertheless Beaumont, with rugby union at a global standstill because of the coronavirus, believes some measure of reform may now be possible.
In particular Beaumont, who has overseen a US$100 million (S$142 million) virus relief package for the game, said more could be done to make the sport’s annual July and November ‘windows’ for Tests into mini-tournaments that could benefit emerging nations.
“I can see if there is a variant of the Nations Cup – at the moment you’ve got competitions which are owned by countries, they are not owned by World Rugby – but I can see something around the Nations Cup, for instance that could be within the windows where you have promotion and relegation added into that.
“Not necessarily in the Six Nations, but you could have the opportunity of having another big tournament, promotion and relegation to ensure is it not always the same 10 to 12 teams playing in it.
“Nations such as Japan (last year’s World Cup hosts) or Georgia could very much be part of a competition like that. This is work to do.
“It is a commitment for me to ensure we make the sport more accessible and better for everybody,” insisted Beaumont.
“A variant on the Nations Cup would be very exciting.”
Japan, Georgia and the Pacific island nations have long been cited as countries that would benefit from a reformed global calendar.
But even though South Africa, one of the 15-a-side code’s traditional superpowers, won their third World Cup title in last year, Beaumont would like to see rugby union make more of an impact throughout the continent of Africa.
“We need to spread rugby through (the world),” he said. “Think how many brilliant athletes come out of Africa, think what the African Nations Cup has done for soccer.
“Those are areas we need to help, working closer with the regions. In Asia, we have huge potential on the back of the World Cup in Japan.”
Beaumont’s rival Pichot has told AFP that World Rugby needs to “modernise” and be “reactive”.
An election, by electronic ballot, opens on Sunday, with the results set to be announced on May 12.
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