Coronavirus: World Rugby chief Bill Beaumont says crisis could spark packed calendar reform

Bill Beaumont, chairman of World Rugby, and Bernard Laporte, president of the French Rugby Federation, with the Webb Ellis Trophy at the Rugby World Cup 2023 host country announcement in London on Nov 15, 2017.
Bill Beaumont, chairman of World Rugby, and Bernard Laporte, president of the French Rugby Federation, with the Webb Ellis Trophy at the Rugby World Cup 2023 host country announcement in London on Nov 15, 2017. PHOTO: ACTION IMAGES VIA REUTERS

LONDON (AFP) - World Rugby chairman Bill Beaumont believes that the "spirit of collaboration" the sport has witnessed in response to the coronavirus pandemic will lead to a new international calendar.

The former England captain was behind plans for a new two-tier Nations Championship - encompassing Europe's Six Nations and the southern hemisphere Rugby Championship - that collapsed last year amid reports that the likes of Scotland were concerned by the risk of relegation from what is currently a "closed" event.

But Beaumont, who must see off a challenge from Argentinian vice-chairman Agustin Pichot if he is to be re-elected, believes the ongoing global shutdown of the sport caused by the virus has caused many within the game to rethink their views.

This week saw the world governing body launch a US$100 million (S$142.2 million) virus relief package and Beaumont, 68, has been heartened by the co-operation shown by countries as they plan for a time when rugby can resume.

"I'm pretty confident that there will be a variation of the Nations Cup," he told BBC Radio on Saturday (April 18).

"I think there's a real spirit of collaboration between the north and the south, looking at what we can do with our playing windows and international windows that can generate more funds in another competition.

"You have to look at the calendar - the British and Irish Lions tour every four years, the Rugby World Cup every four years," added Beaumont, himself a former Lions skipper.

'Reality check'

"It's a balancing act that you have to do to fit everything into this jigsaw.

"But I think in the past people have been quite protective about what they have got, what we are looking at now, this is probably a reality check for the sport - are we doing things correctly?

"You are pretty foolish if you don't learn lessons," insisted Beaumont, who had previously warned there might be no more international rugby played this year.

That would be a huge blow to the sport, given finances from internationals help subsidise all levels of the game.

The All Blacks accepted a 50 per cent pay freeze on Thursday as New Zealand's players' association said it was preparing for the nightmare scenario of no more professional rugby this year.

Rugby Australia alone is forecasting losses of A$120 million (S$108.6 million) if the entire domestic season is wiped out.

Former Pumas scrum-half and captain Pichot launched his bid to become World Rugby chairman last week, with the 45-year-old saying the virus outbreak provided an opportunity for the "global realignment" of the game that should see its commercial income "moving on from the time where those benefits were for just a few".

He promptly received backing from former England World Cup-winning coach Clive Woodward, who played in Test sides captained by Beaumont.

Woodward said the equality and diversity needed in the global game was hampered by an imbalance of power on World Rugby's council that sees the established Six Nations and Rugby Championship countries have three votes each, while the likes of "Tier Two" Fiji and Samoa have just one vote each.