Argentina great Agustin Pichot says he “strongly believes” he can pull off a shock victory and oust Sir Bill Beaumont as World Rugby chairman.
The 45-year-old, the current vice-chairman, is running against Beaumont, who is standing for re-election.
With just days until the vote, Pichot says he has been encouraged by his campaign, despite being the underdog.
“I think it is going to be tough, but I am an optimist,” he told the Rugby Union Weekly podcast.
In an in-depth interview, Pichot added: “I strongly believe that it could happen.
“But I am doing this because I love the game. If it’s OK, it’s OK, but if it’s not OK, it’s fine, and I will carry on in rugby in some shape or form.”
‘Progress has to be made’
Beaumont holds the upper hand largely because of the backing he is set to receive from the Six Nations unions, who hold 18 of the 51 votes between them – with Pichot expecting them all to support the former England captain.
Rugby Europe has also pledged its support for Beaumont, but Pichot is being championed by the southern hemisphere Sanzaar countries (South Africa, New Zealand, Australia and Argentina), and has also positioned himself as a campaigner for emerging nations as he looks to shake up rugby’s establishment.
Beaumont’s campaign has also been disrupted by the controversy that has hit Fiji rugby, who had pledged their support, with the FRU chairman forced to stand down from the World Rugby council after accusations of homophobia and misconduct.
“I am starting 20 votes against 14,” Pichot explained.
“If you take the Sanzaar votes plus the votes from South America, it is 14, against the Six Nations and Europe which is 20 – so it is a big thing to row [back].”
Pichot has been outspoken in his desire for change in the game, and says the current voting model, where the ‘Tier One’ nations – those that play in the Six Nations and the Rugby Championship – hold three votes each in the elections, is unfair.
“We talk about values, but why do we have 30 of the 51 votes split between 10 nations? That is not the democracy of the 21st century,” he added.
“Fiji has one vote and Argentina has three, why? Every kid in the world would ask you: ‘why?’
“I will challenge that. I am not saying everyone should have three votes, but I am saying that type of progress has to be done to make an equal game.”
‘We all have a common agenda’
Rugby’s fragmented governance has been a roadblock to change at any great pace, with numerous different stakeholders all understandably committed to serving their own interests first ahead of the game at large.
But Pichot feels common ground can be found between bodies such as Premiership Rugby, Sanzaar and the French league.
“I am going to be blunt. They all want more incomes and a better game. Everyone wants the same: income, and a better product. We all have a common agenda,” he said.
“So it is a question of putting World Rugby to the service of the game. It’s not about World Rugby or the Six Nations or Sanzaar determining, it is about how we put everything to the service of the game.
“It’s complex, and it is not going to be easy, but if you have a different mindset in the organisation, then it is easier.”
‘I am not an anarchist’
Pichot says the Six Nations currently holds too much power in the world game, with the northern hemisphere unions fierce defenders of the status quo, but he stresses he wants the tournament to continue to flourish going forwards.
“I am not an anarchist who wants a revolution of everything,” Pichot insisted.
“I want the Six Nations to be really successful, but you have to be generous with the people beside you.
“Six Nations feel with me that I am threatening their product, I am not. But I am saying they have to be more equal and more generous.
“I don’t want to cut the Six Nations, I want to make it bigger. I want an Irish sold in Tunisia, a Wales shirt in Canada or China. That is the growth of the game.
“Look at the NBA, the NFL, soccer. When you go to India or Vietnam you see shirts all over the place; that is a global game.”