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Agustin Pichot challenges for top job and promises a rugby revolution

por Manie Grunewald (2020-05-01)


World Rugby has found itself at a revolutionary crossroads after Agustin Pichot launched an eleventh hour bid to challenge Bill Beaumont in the presidential elections.

The Argentinian submitted a six-point manifesto hours before this weekend's deadline and has revealed his plans exclusively in the Mail on Sunday.

Running against the former England captain, Pichot has promised to shake up the protectionist 'old boys club' with a 'modernised' and 'democratised' governance.

Agustin Pichot has launched a late bid to challenge Bill Beaumont in the presidential elections

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He believes the coronavirus pandemic will force change in the sport and has built his bid around an amended blueprint of the Nations Championship.

Pichot's six-point plan includes:

Addressing the challenges of COVID-19 as part of a wider alignment of the global playing calendar, creating a 'compelling narrative' for men and women in XVs and Sevens. Clubs, unions and private equity firms will be consulted about an annual tournament featuring 12 to 14 Tests per nation per year.
A democratic governance structure. A long-term goal of scrapping the weighted vote system that gives more power to wealthy nations, as well as revenue sharing.
A growing grassroots and youth game, including focus on developing emerging nations such as Brazil and Tunisia.
A safe and entertaining game, featuring a dedicated World Rugby Innovation Department to look at projects such as Hawkeye technology and a flagship rugby computer game.
Mandatory athletes' commissions to put players at the heart of decision making - with discussions about reducing wages to create sustainability.
A World Rugby management 'fit for purpose' - reviewing all internal structures to 'restore trust' in the governing body.
Current chairman Bill Beaumont had expected to run unopposed in the election

World Rugby elections are usually a formality and Beaumont was expected to run unopposed with Bernard Laporte as his deputy. However, Pichot has garnered support from nations who feel let down by the governing body - particularly those left in dire financial straits by COVID-19 - and has decided to run independently with no running-mate.

'It is a critical time and a critical election,' Pichot told the Mail on Sunday. 'I have a different vision of the game to Bill. I'm not saying mine is better than his and I don't have a bad word to say against him, but we think differently.

'Our sport has to adjust to the modern way. It's not about anarchy. It's about modern, equal, professional democracy. We need solidarity and certainty in times of crisis. The system does not trust World Rugby… that's the reality. We have let politics get inside the organisation and that's not good. I have been a part of it and I should have pushed harder for a fairer system.

'This is a time to re-set the structure of our sport and build a game with global appeal, because the shortfall of COVID-19 will be big. We don't want nations going bankrupt. it's about protection for everyone, not just for a few.'

Since retiring from his playing days in Argentina, Pichot has built a reputation as a statesman who speaks out against rugby's conservative and outdated policies. He has become a champion of under-supported tier two nations who will be given more prominence in his unified Test calendar. 

A revisited Nations Championship forms a key pillar of Pichot's proposal, based around an annual tournament featuring the top 12 teams from both hemispheres.



Pichot played 71 games for Argentina from 1995 to 2005, coming third in the 2007 World Cup

'The Nations Championship is the starting point but we need more people at the table to discuss the proposal: clubs, players, unions, private equity,' he said. 

'Things were blocked last year but I believe this virus will change people and change the way they do things. I think it could create a revolution in our game because you have to look again at the whole eco-system. 

'The stakeholders need to come together to form the best model. People will want to talk about promotion and relegation. Everyone needs an equal voice so what is the best way forward. If we want to align the calendar, can the Rugby Championship be played at the same time as the Six Nations in March? How do we create space for a healthy club competition? Who knows. We need trust between the systems - club and country - to create meaningful international games. 

The Buenos Aries-born star became vice chairman of World Rugby in 2016

'Soccer has done it very well. By preserving the club and the international game. Although Lionel Messi earns 20 times the money for Barcelona, he still plays for Argentina in every single championship because it's meaningful. The club is happy and the country is happy. We need strategic conversations and a 360-degree plan for a better product. 

'CVC is an instrumental part of the way forward. They are a private equity company with an open mind and they will want things organised to make more money. A critical situation will put you on a creative pathway to change things.'

Pichot believes a realignment of the sport's power structure is essential to build the global product. The voting process on the World Rugby council is currently heavily weighted towards rich European unions - leaving little voice for the likes of Japan and the Pacific Islands. England's vote, for example, is worth three times that of Fiji, and Pichot wants to see a long-term shift.

'The voting criteria at the moment should be challenged,' said Pichot. 

Pichot says developing countries must be given a say if the body is to become truly democratic

'Everyone has to have a voice and the long-term goal is for everyone to have a vote. It's early days and it won't be easy, but rugby has got to be democratic. At the moment, it's not fair. We can't keep patronising poor countries with handouts and bailouts - 50 grand to Fiji when they play in England. 

'We need a modern mindset of democracy. Revenue sharing is important. I want the Six Nations to make much more money, but I want to redistribute the money in a different way. I want investment in new markets and the women's game. You want to see the World Cup expand, but to do that you need sustainable pathways for nations like Brazil or Tunisia. At the moment, some of the decisions being made look like an old boys' club.'

And Pichot believes the sport is missing out on opportunities to maximise its revenue.

He claims rugby can become increasingly appealing to the consumer by engaging more with technology. He wants to form an innovation department to look at ways of enhancing the match experience and open talks with gaming software pulsa all operator companies.

'Rugby is old-fashioned in terms of technology,' said Pichot. 'I see my kids today and realise importance of e-sports for the new generations. They play Fortnite, League of Legends, FIFA. All of the established sports markets are connected with digital games and that is a huge means of attracting a younger audience. FIFA 2020, NBA 2K20, NFL Madden. 

'Rugby hasn't had decent (video) game since Jonah Lomu Rugby in 1995': Pichot believes the sport must seek to engage with a wider, younger audience by using technology

'Rugby hasn't had decent game since Jonah Lomu Rugby in 1995, so that would be part of the remit for a dedicated World Rugby innovation department. You need to think about how you approach the modern fan. Young boys and girls. It's not rocket science. Our game is complex, so we can use technology like HawkEye to monitor the offside line and offer more positive innovation.'

Improved products would eventually lead to an uplift in revenue, with CVC eyeing broadcast renewals as an opportunity to maximise their returns. In England, Sky Sports are poised to outbid the BBC and ITV for the Six Nations rights as part of the strategy. Pichot stressed the importance of some rugby remaining free-to-air, but also believes the Direct to Consumer platforms will become increasingly key stakeholders.

'I strongly believe that platforms like Amazon Prime, Google or Netflix will become crucial players to bring more income within five years,' said Pichot. 'UFC has had a successful model a couple of years ago. 

'I'm completely open to optimising the player, club and international revenues and there are two ways of approaching private investment: giving away equity or giving away commercial revenue streams. But we also need to work with traditional platforms. There has to be a balance with free to air. But I think the biggest issue is to bring a good product. If you have a good product you have the eyeballs behind it.'

USA Rugby last week declared bankruptcy; another example of the frail finances in the sport

However, first the sport must overcome its immediate financial struggles at all levels. In England, some Premiership clubs are at risk of folding after the postponement of matches exposed their frail finances. USA Rugby last week declared bankruptcy and Australian Rugby is in a crisis which forced its boss, Raelene Castle, to take a 65 per cent pay cut. As well as cut backs on unnecessary spending in the sport's governance, Pichot also believes player salaries should down to create a sustainable model.

'If you ask most business people how they run a company and how they spend their money, it's not being done in rugby,' said Pichot. 'I'm not here to fly around the world, go to amazing places and have a good time. We need to look at expenditure and head counts.

'At the end of the day, the most important thing is the players. The salary of the player, the ability of the players, the welfare of the players. They should have eight to twelve weeks off. If you look at the sports profit and loss accounts, player wages are too high. 

'You can't go against the free market, but if you pay everyone $2million and you're making a loss then it's not a healthy business. It's never going to grow and it's never going to be global. We have to adjust to a more modern way.'

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