Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Rugby World Cup 2023: Understanding World Rugby Council Membership

The dream of taking Rugby World Cup 2023 to a new country has many supporters as rugby has expanded tremendously from the limited base that existed prior to 1987. Since which time the basis of power has changed from what it was traditionally and is certain to continue doing so into the future. With the IRB rebranding itself to be called World Rugby expansion is very much alive and legitimate future options exist for Rugby World Cups to be played in places that, too date, have no prior experience of hosting Rugby World Cup tournaments or matches. The strongest of all is Argentina, the only Semi Finalist in rugby history that has not hosted a Rugby World Cup. An argument outlining not only why  Argentina should but also how the country can host has been documented in a published book

Standing in the way of Argentina winning hosting rights is not a better bidder but the power structure of the IRB, a non-democratic entity which does not distribute decision making power evenly. The balance of power in the IRB is not in Argentina's favor but the case for Argentina to host is arguably so strong that it ought to, ultimately, be able to defeat other bidders with previous hosts Australia, France, Ireland and South Africa appearing to be the strongest alternatives. To secure hosting rights the successful bidder requires a majority of votes from the IRB Council. 

Is decision making based on democracy?
No. There are a total of 121 unions listed by the IRB of which 102 are included in the IRB World Rankings and the remainder are associate IRB members. Despite the vast number of countries playing rugby around the world the number of unions who have voting power is very limited. The IRB Council consists of a total of twenty-eight votes, two of which are held by the IRB Chairman and IRB Vice-Chairman.

The twenty-six remaining votes are possessed by IRB member nations or regional authorities. Not only does the distribution of power see a minority given the exclusive right to vote but the twenty-six votes are concentrated in the hands of as few as twelve IRB member unions. 

So who gets to vote?
The six IRB defined regions each carry one vote. As such ARFU (Asia), CAR (Africa), CONSUR (South America), FIRA (Europe), FORU (Oceania) and NACRA (North America) all have equal power on the IRB Council. The remaining votes are distributed between IRB member unions who are commonly considered as being traditional powers of the sport. All have appeared in every Rugby World Cup. 

Do they each have one vote?
No. Argentina, Canada, Italy and Japan each do have one vote but the remaining nations on the council have two. In other words all of Australia, England, France, Ireland, New Zealand, Scotland, South Africa and Wales each have double the decision making power of Argentina, Canada, Italy and Japan. In terms of power this means that over 60%, or a direct majority, of votes are held by eight IRB member nations.

Is it based on playing numbers per nation?
No. Wales has 64,114 rugby players while Canada has 129,131 players and the USA has 1.4 million. Both Argentina and Fiji are listed as having 127,214 and 156,140 respectively and both also have larger player numbers than Wales. In fact according to the IRB's own data the USA has more players than France, Ireland, New Zealand, Scotland, South Africa and Wales combined. Put differently there is absolutely no correlation between voting power and the number of people playing rugby within an IRB defined territory. 

Is it based on playing at all Rugby World Cups?
No. Although both Fiji and the USA missed out on qualifying for Rugby World Cup 1995 this is not the reason for these countries lacking a vote. In addition to the above mentioned countries there is one more which has appeared at every Rugby World Cup but does not have a vote on the IRB Council - Romania. The Eastern European country was invited to Rugby World Cup 1987 and has subsequently qualified for every Rugby World Cup, including 2015. 

Is it therefore based on performances at Rugby World Cups?
No. Romania has a better ratio of matches played to victories than Japan. Romania won one match at each of the 1987, 1991, 1999, 2003 and 2007 World Cups defeating Zimbabwe, Fiji, USA, Namibia and Portugal. Japan, in contrast, defeated Zimbabwe at Rugby World Cup 1991 and competed to draws against Canada in 2007 and 2011. All other matches have been losses.

A second example of note is that of Ireland carrying twice the power of Argentina despite Ireland having never reached the Semi Finals of a Rugby World Cup. Unlike the Irish Argentina did so in 2007, finishing third in the world. Moreover Scotland's best performance was fourth in 1991, a World Cup which did not feature South Africa. 

Canada's best return at a World Cup was also in 1991 when the North Americans reached the Quarter Finals. The same is true of  Fiji and Samoa who have both appeared at the Quarter Finals stage of two Rugby World Cups. Neither country has a vote on the IRB Council. 

Is it based on population?
No. Despite Fiji and Samoa both having small populations this is not the reason for neither having voting power. If population were to indeed be a part of the equation then the USA would certainly have at least one vote as would a number of others. Romania has a population of 21.79 million which is more than the combined populations of Ireland, New Zealand, Scotland and Wales. Moreover Argentina has a larger population than these four and Australia combined.

Is it based on IRB members per region?
No. As mentioned earlier all regions have one vote and when considering the total number of votes per region there is no correlation whatsoever between voting distribution per region and members per region. Oceania has twelve IRB members compared to Asia which has sixteen. On the Council Oceania carries the votes of FORU, Australia and New Zealand whlie Asia has ARFU and Japan. Oceania therefore has five votes and Asia two. 

Is it based on Tier status?
No. The IRB defined Tier One members are the same unions with two votes each in addition to Argentina and Italy. Were tier status the defining characteristic then both Argentina and Italy would have two votes. In addition Canada and Japan are tier two nations with one vote each but there are other tier two members who cannot vote. 

What is it based on then?
History. The unions or Ireland, Scotland and Wales created the IRB, known as the International Rugby Football Board, in 1886 and England joined in 1890. Next to join and be allocated votes were South Africa, Australia and New Zealand in 1948 and France did so in 1978. Argentina, Canada, Italy and Japan were admitted in 1991, after the establishment of the Rugby World Cup which was first played in 1987.

Changes over time have seen the eight founding members, including France, coming to have two votes each. The same unions are those who will have hosted every Rugby World Cup from 1987-2015. Japan 2019 represents the first change and there will be more. The rebranding of the IRB to become 'World Rugby' is a strong suggestion that the power structure and decisions are to be changed.

Would Argentina be able to obtain the votes?
Yes. Argentina currently carries one vote and would certainly have CONSUR's vote too. In April 2013 IRB Chief Executive Brett Gosper said that the IRB was looking at giving both Argentina and Italy a second vote. Argentina is also a country which the IRB has a keen interest in and has strong relations with powerful unions including members of SANZAR in addition to France, Canada, Italy and NACRA.  

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