World Rugby, French federation dismiss claims election 'manipulated'

Bill Beaumont
Bill Beaumont
Getty Images

Rugby's governing body defended its election processes Thursday after a report accused it of allowing backroom deals in the vote for a new chairman and said it had ignored corruption in the Pacific.

The report, from lobby group Pacific Rugby Player Welfare, called for an independent review of the May election, when incumbent World Rugby chairman Bill Beaumont of England defeated Argentina's pro-reform candidate Agustin Pichot.

It cited media reports claiming the French rugby federation (FFR), which backed Beaumont, offered Fiji preferential treatment in return for its vote.

"PRPW submits this alleged agreement may amount to bribery and that it suggests that the election was deliberately manipulated," it said.

World Rugby dismissed the claims as "unsubstantiated and erroneous".

"World Rugby is completely satisfied that the 2020 chairperson election was undertaken in accordance with a robust process with Sir Bill Beaumont elected in a fair and appropriate manner," it said in a statement.

The FFR also rebutted the "slanderous accusations", saying it would take take legal action.

"(The FFR) plans to take legal action to bring the author of these writings before a court for public defamation," it said.

The 59-page document also detailed a string of failings it said had allowed corruption to fester in Fiji, Samoa and Tonga, creating a drain of players to wealthy 'tier-one' nations.

"One of the world's most fertile breeding grounds for rugby talent continues to be subjected to notions of colonial entitlement, which must now be consigned to the scrap heap of history," it said.

It said rugby unions in the region had been undermined by a process of "state capture", where senior government officials took top roles and did not govern in the best interests of the game.

PRPW is an independent, non-profit organisation set up to support players of Pacific island heritage in Britain and Europe.

The organisation questioned how Fiji Rugby Union chairman Francis Kean, who was convicted of manslaughter in 2007, was appointed to the World Rugby Council.

"That a convicted killer, let alone someone like Kean, who has been criticised by prominent human rights organisations, could be appointed as a representative to the council is a damning indictment of World Rugby's governance," it said.

Kean stepped down from World Rugby in April and left the FRU on Thursday.

More broadly, the group said World Rugby lacked a commitment to diversity, and demanded greater representation on its powerful 12-person executive committee.

"There are more men with the name 'Brett' on ExCo than there are women, or people from a Black and minority ethnic (BAME) background," it noted.

It said a World Rugby governance review launched last month with former British sports minister Hugh Robertson in charge was not truly independent because most of those involved were rugby administrators.

"It looks like World Rugby is marking its own homework," the group said.

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