Bill Beaumont and challenger Agustin Pichot are in the last week of their election campaign to become president of World Rugby.
Seated Beaumont looks as if he can count on 21 votes so far in next Sunday’s elections, while Argentina’s Pichot has pledged 19, leaving 11 more to decide.
Here the former Argentine scrum half Pichot is questioned by the English World Cup winning coach and Sportsmail columnist Sir Clive Woodward about his vision for the future of the game.
Agustin Pichot spoke to Sportsmail’s Sir Clive Woodward about the World Rugby elections
Clive Woodward: I am glad you are participating in this election – rugby governance needs a radical change – but my first question is: why?
I have always thought that world rugby politics is outdated and unchangeable at best, but it is also unfair. So, what’s the big buzz most people would say is impossible to win?
Agustin Pichot: I still remember Will Carling talking about ‘old farts’ in 1995. The game has always been slow in his thinking. As a player for Argentina, we always claimed that the establishment was not moving.
I met with (then New Zealand captain) Richie McCaw in 2007 and I thought, “Wow, this is worse than I thought.” A month later, the Argentine Rugby Union asked me to help them with a re-shape.
But I had been complaining about the system for most of my career – how it wasn’t fair – so I thought it was my responsibility to take up the challenge. That’s where it started.
I didn’t want to spend my time copying and pasting. I wanted to make a difference and I don’t think the sport can continue the same way. It’s the same as in 2007, that’s why I walk.
Pichot says developing countries must have a say if the body is to become truly democratic
CW: How did you find the past four years as too small a study for Bill? I look at the voice structure and at best it just isn’t fair. It is completely wrong that the Six Nations all vote together in a pack mentality.
Why can’t countries think for themselves and explain their own decisions? Don’t you find it impossible to work in a system that seems to be rigged from the outside?
AP: I had to be inside to understand how it works. Just like I had to study Martin Johnson videos before we played against England. What I admired about your team in 2003 was the change in mentality. There was a shift to modern thinking.
The first thing World Rugby needs is a change of mindset. At the moment, the mindset is very conservative and politics has become involved.
People fear Six Nations and don’t trust World Rugby. Everything is built on fragile terms because people don’t think together. Everything has been copied and pasted so we haven’t had the time to reset and ask, “What do we really need?”
Pichot says he learned a lot from current chairman and electoral opponent Bill Beaumont
CW: ‘Reset’ is the keyword. The corona virus is something terrible and it has forced rugby to an intersection. The sport never gets a better chance of resetting than it does now.
You said the sport has not changed since 2007. I think there are elements that haven’t changed in 40 years. But the voting system worries me. How does Italy have a voice three times the size of Fiji’s? This voting system reflects so badly on rugby.
AP: I have to make clear to the voters that I am not against the tradition of the game. I am against it not evolving. Maybe there is no point in calling some of the Six Nations unions – they have already made up their minds.
If France or England get mad at them, they will be affected, you know what I mean? But we should all sit down – players, clubs, private equity – as friends, not enemies. We all need to meet regularly to change the way we think; not just any box every six months.
The Argentinian became vice-chairman in 2016 and now plans to restructure the voting system
CW: The vote is a private vote. The rugby world is always banging about values and norms, but there is no transparency. Does it have to change to become public?
AP: I would really like to see that and I suggested it. I would like to see how Italy thinks. I have the support of SANZAAR (South Africa, New Zealand, Australia and Argentina), but I would like to speak to each individual union.
I have sent a letter to each country separately and have received no response from some CEOs. I only got one email from the Six Nations unions – that was Wales. I think that’s poor.
Every CEO should be responsible for learning what’s best for the game, even if they don’t support you.
CW: Again I find it amazing that the Six Nations boards have not given you the platform. I thought that countries like Italy in particular would be very interested in talking to you. Does their rugby system work for them? I do not think so.
There is a lot of hot air floating around the global season. It’s a great opportunity, especially when it comes to introducing promotion and relegation. I think the Six Nations is committing suicide with its closed system.
Italy in the 1990s was fantastic because they fought to enter the Six Nations and now they just got soft. In football, relegation battles are just as interesting as promotion battles. Rugby lacks a trick!
AP: I’ve kicked over the chessboard in the air here before. I have been hammering like a woodpecker because I strongly believe this. I insisted on meeting with the San Francisco clubs, which was an opportunity to start discussions, not finish them.
But we were comfortable enough to just have a calendar through 2030 and tell the press that we’re giving 20 percent more games to the Tier Two countries. There are too many meaningless games.
Have you seen South Africa against France at the Stade de France in 2017? It should have been a full house, lots of money, but there were thousands of empty seats. I want to see teams play for their lives.
The introduction of promotion and relegation could easily expand the sports audience
CW: So, what does a global season look like? Do the lions fit in your vision?
AP: First of all you start with the players. They need to rest.
Second, you need structure. Right now it is a puzzle mosaic so you need to understand what is best for all stakeholders. The Nations Championship structure is the best starting point, but you have to get everyone involved.
This virus may mean that we are not playing the July window, so all tests will be played in October and November.
Maybe that’s better for the clubs and private equity groups like CVC. CVC wants a better structure to create a better product. People don’t think I like tradition, but I speak to Lions players like Brian O’Driscoll and it’s a great product. I love it. There is still room for the lions. It’s a traditional thing, but we can still add a modern look to it.
I would use the British and Irish Lions on a more global scale. I would like to see that brand travel even further. They are said to be very popular in the Americas, but that’s a conversation with the CEO of Lions.
Pichot believes that a modern makeover can further increase the popularity of the Lions team
CW: I met CVC. They are mentioned a lot without people understanding who they are. How do they fit in?
AP: They want to make a profit … it’s not rocket science. You have to involve them, you have to see how you can work together to make a better game, simple. You have to reset the mind. Don’t tell me to go straight to pay austerity and fire people. That’s the easiest way to solve a profit and loss problem, but we don’t have to start that way.
First, we can become more efficient. Don’t be afraid to hit the reset button and change our way of doing business.
CW: And what do you think about World Rugby suddenly coming out with this huge chunk of money available?
The cynical side of me says it was an interesting timing just before the election. They should have waited for the new chairman to come in and let him make that decision.
AP: You said it, not me. If countries urgently need it now, it is there for them. I will always place the good side of the game against the cynical side. I could have gone and blocked it, but I don’t work like that.
Pichot played 71 games for Argentina from 1995 to 2005 and came third at the 2007 World Cup
CW: In the Sunday papers, Bill talked about changing the conditions of participation so that Manu Tuilagi and Billy Vunipola can play for the Pacific Islands again. Do you agree to this?
I just shake my head how someone might think that was a good idea in any form.
I feel like I’m giving them the leftovers. We must first of all want to create a system in which they want to play for those countries.
AP: Maybe I will lose an election for this, but I strongly believe in players who play for their country. The Vunipolas and Tuilagi have lived in England all their lives, so it is their right to play for England.
I fully understand why some countries like Samoa and Tonga want the players back. But if I am a Tonga player and suddenly a player who has chosen to play for England decides to come back and take my position, how will I feel?
I like to discuss it, but I’m not going to say it would change. Remember that countries like Uruguay and Canada are unlikely to have the same luxury.
CW: The million dollar question, Gus, do you think you can win this one? It feels like David is taking on Goliath.
AP: Clive, I’ve faced tough teams in Twickenham, I’ve played at the House of Pain (Carisbrook) in New Zealand and I always believe I can win.
My family thinks I’m completely crazy, but the amount of support I’ve received is more than I could have asked for.
CW: And in the last week of campaigning, what’s your only message you want people to hear?
AP: That I try to find an equal balance in the global game. It is not a Robin Hood story. I try not to take from the rich and give to the poor.
We need to look at what’s around us and have a better society. Emerging countries need help.
CW: I think you are the man who leads rugby through this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.
Nik Simon listened in.