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Events are happening at World Rugby that signal new beginnings and potential changes for the sport.
On May 11, elections will be held for the posts of Chairman and Vice-Chairman of World Rugby. It is for certain that Bill Beaumont, former chairman of the RFU, will assume the top role, succeeding the outgoing Bernard Lapasset, who retires after eight-years at the helm. The changeover will take place July 1, and the term is four-years. Agustin Pichot from Argentina is set to take over as vice-chairman of the organization.
Beaumont, with 34 caps for England, and often captain of the Red Roses XV, is the quintessential rugby insider with years of high-level rugby savvy and experience. His appointment could mark a subtle change from a continental leader (the Frenchman Lapasset) to an Anglo-Celtic worldview, restoring a measure of English authority to the sport.
Lapasset enjoyed many critical successes during his tenure. Foremost, rugby sevens for women and men was voted into the 2016 Rio Olympics, a return after 92-years to the second most watched sporting event in the world. World Rugby expanded to include 117 national sides (100 full membership, 17 associate), and, significantly, the organization dropped the familiar IRB abbreviation to strengthen global branding under the new name. He also expanded the importance and scope of Women’s rugby, staging a well-run 2014 World Cup in Paris, and expanding Women’s Sevens to five, international cities.
Lapasset enjoys the recent 2015 Rugby World Cup success in England and Wales, which established new benchmarks for attendance, television viewership, and revenue. Finally, the HSBC World Rugby Men’s sevens tournament expanded from eight to ten cities, also having undergone the elimination of under-performing events, and replacing these venues with potentially more successful, new locations (Sydney, Singapore, Capetown, Vancouver, and Paris).
Lapasset will head up Paris’s bid for the 2024 summer Olympics.
England continues to smart from not advancing to the RWC 2015 quarter finals, held in its own backyard, the first time a host nation failed to qualify. The England team coach, Stuart Lancaster, stepped down immediately after, supplanted by Eddie Jones who led Japan to a 3-1 RWC outcome with a spectacular upset of South Africa. Last week, Rob Andrews, RFU director of professional rugby, also resigned, to be replaced by Nigel Melville, CEO of USA Rugby.
But are these the last changes in England rugby? Current RFU chairman is Ian Ritchie, former six-year head of the All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club, whose term expires next year. Will he stay, or will he go? He remains the last one left in power from England's RWC 2015 disappointment.
And, if the RFU weighs Ritchie’s possible departure, is this the main reason for Melville’s new appointment, the heir apparent waiting in the wings?