Independent World Rugby review is a facade
DUBAI, UNITED ARAB EMIRATES - NOVEMBER 19: Rt Hon Sir Hugh Robertson, Former Olympic Minister, London 2012 speaks during day two of the Host Cities Summit at the Faimont Hotel on November 19, 2015 in Dubai, United Arab Emirates. (Photo by Warren Little/Getty Images)

In the wake of fresh allegations of corruption in the election of its top officials, World Rugby has some serious questions to answer. The independent World Rugby review of its governance won’t have those answers.

Allegations of Corruption

A little over a week ago Pacific Rugby Players Welfare (PRPW) – a not-for-profit players organization headed by former Samoan international Dan Leo – released a report condemning a litany of alleged governance failures on behalf of World Rugby. Chief among these failures was the proposed nomination of a convicted criminal and homophobe Francis Kean for World Rugby’s Executive Committee (EXCO) and the alleged corruption in the election of World Rugby Chairman Sir Bill Beaumont and Vice-Chairman Bernard Laporte.

Welcome by President Nicolas Sarkozy to the Bodies and Officials in Lille, France on January 11th, 2008 – Bernard Laporte. (Photo by Franck CRUSIAUX/Gamma-Rapho via Getty Images)

World Rugby has since dismissed the allegations made by PRPW as ‘unsubstantiated’ and ‘erroneous’. In a statement made on Twitter, World Rugby asserted that it ‘continually reviews its decision-making structures and is currently undertaking a governance review’.

Part of the scope of this ostensibly ‘independent’ review ‘includes examining criteria for a fit and proper person test for elected members’. An assurance, then, that Beaumont and Laporte were ‘elected in a fair and appropriate manner’ and the governance review will prove this.

Beneath the gossamer veneer of proper process, however, the waters are somewhat murky and quite probably, filled with sharks.

Can it be an Independent review?

It is worth delving a little deeper into World Rugby’s ‘independent-led’ review. For a start, one might question who is undertaking the governance review and just how independent it really is. World Rugby’s website states that the review is being conducted by a ‘Working Group’ comprised of ‘independent experts, players, and representatives from emerging and established rugby nations’.

Setting aside minor queries such as why exactly ‘emerging nations’ are being represented by the President of the French Rugby Federation Alin Petrache, there are more pernicious concerns that need addressing.

Primarily, it bears discussion that a purportedly independent review is being carried out by a fourteen-person group that lists a startling minority of only three of its personnel as officially ‘independent members’. Namely, Sir Hugh Robertson (who chairs the group), Sir Peter Cosgrove, and Angela Ruggiero.

Moreover, one of these ‘independent members’, Angela Ruggiero, also happens to sit on World Rugby’s chief decision-making body (EXCO) calling into question whether her categorization is a fair one.

In reality, therefore, it is only 14% of this ‘independent’ Working Group who are in no way affiliated with the organization they are reviewing.

More troubling yet is that World Rugby Chairman Bill Beaumont, Vice-Chairman Bernard Laporte, and CEO Brett Gosper are also part of the Working Group. The inclusion of the three top members of World Rugby on the body tasked with reviewing it is an obvious threat to that body’s ability to function independently as could possibly be divined.

If it appears as though there may be a conflict of interest where the reviewing body is 86% comprised of members or affiliates of the organization under review… it is because there is. And it gets worse.

Setting its own Mandate

The scope of what the Working Group may review is determined ‘in line with the terms of reference approved by the World Rugby Council and Executive Committee’. In other words, World Rugby’s Council and its EXCO set the mandate for their own review. World Rugby has the final say in what may and may not be reviewed and by whom.

Not content with marking their own homework, World Rugby is setting it as well.

World Rugby Trial Laws
World Rugby CEO Brett Gosper addresses an audience – Photo courtesy of WorldRugby.org

This fact makes it deeply concerning that, in addition to Beaumont, Laporte, Gosper, and Ruggiero the Working Group is also staffed by Mark Alexander and Christina Flores; both of whom sit on World Rugby’s Council and the former who also sits on its EXCO.

Nearly 50% of the supposedly ‘independent’ Working Group is therefore made up of the same individuals who determine precisely what it is that the group is permitted to review.

World Rugby has proven unsurprisingly dogmatic in their refusal to consider recommendations from outside the ‘independent’ Working Group. As part of their Twitter rebuttal, World Rugby stated that they refuse to take into consideration governance suggestions made by PRPW on account of the fact that World Rugby ‘only recognizes International Rugby Players as the global representative body for players’.

PRPW in turn retorted that ‘the group’s World Rugby [sic] have stipulated they will only deal with … are largely if not exclusively dependent on WR for funding’. Which, if true, would present an obvious conflict of interest and moral hazard.

World Rugby review lacks Credibility

On inspection, it becomes clear that World Rugby’s independent-led review of its governance is little more than a façade. While serious concerns prevail around the election of World Rugby’s top officials; these same individuals now set the mandate for, and participate in, the review of their own governance.

The ‘Working Group’ is so mutilated by conflicts of interest that it struggles to maintain even a semblance of credible independence. Whatever its findings prove to be, uncertainty is likely to remain.

 

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