Sport is now a multi-billion dollar enterprise. Two of the world’s leading sports organizations – World Rugby and FIFA – have new people at the helm, with both appointments coming at a time when sport has never been more popular, or problematic. The challenges range from money – not the lack of it but where it comes from and where it goes – transparency, trust and match integrity through to new formats and player welfare, concussions and anti-doping.
My mate from Lancashire, Bill Beaumont, the former barn-storming and somewhat menacing lock who captained both England to a grand slam and the British Lions to a series win, was elected last week as chairman of World Rugby (formerly the International Rugby Board). There are not a lot of things in business and life that get unanimous backing, but that is what Beaumont received from the voting countries to elevate him to the leadership.
Billy is a Red Rose man through and through; born in Preston, educated in Kirby Lonsdale, with the family textile firm in Chorley a stalwart of Fylde RUFC as player, captain, chairman and Father of England player Josh. Writing in The Guardian, Robert Kitson noted “there is no one on planet rugby who has been trusted with more senior roles as both a player and an official than the 64-year-old Beaumont,” noting his innate rugby knowledge and first-hand awareness of the issues. “His positive relationships with virtually all the sport’s great and good will be a valuable asset.”
Beaumont’s priorities for World Rugby are “continuing to protect players, preserving integrity, enhancing global competition, optimising partnerships and empowering and strengthening unions.” Following a wildly successful Rugby World Cup in England in 2015, rugby’s international focus switches to the Olympic sevens tournament in Rio, with the 2019 World Cup in Japan also seen as crucial in terms of promoting the game to new markets. (And a red letter day for USA Rugby at the moment of Bill’s election – with the US being elected as permanent member of the Global Executive Committee… giving the US a voice in the development of the game for the first time.)
In the other football code, for the first time ever a woman and a non-European has been appointed FIFA Secretary General. Fatma Samba Diouf Samoura from Senegal is a 21 year veteran of the United Nations, currently the UN Development Programme’s representative in Nigeria, coordinating the activities of 2,000 staff members, and evaluating the security, political and socio-economic situation and trends in Africa’s most populous country. FIFA have sought new perspectives and skills from outside the traditional pool of football managers – a wise move given the turmoil in the sport at the top level. Notes FIFA President Gianni Infantino, “Fatma is a woman with international experience and vision who has worked on some of the most challenging issues of our time. She has a proven ability to build and lead teams, and improve the way organisations perform. Importantly for FIFA, she also understands that transparency and accountability are at the heart of any well-run and responsible organisation.”