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Asia Rugby President Qais Al Dhalai calls on World Rugby Chairman to explain plans for near future

Sport360° logo Sport360° 05/05/2020 Niall McCague - Senior Writer
a man wearing a hat © Provided by Sport360° a close up of a man wearing a hat © Provided by Sport360°

Bill Beaumont’s re-election as World Rugby chairman for another four years has divided opinion in the rugby world.

On the one hand, there is confidence in the Englishman’s experience to help the game in challenging times. However, there is a lingering disappointment that the freshness and vision of Agustin Pichot was unable to shake up the old guard.

Former Argentina captain Pichot had been widely regarded as the ideal candidate to try to modernise the sport, backed publicly by Asia Rugby president Qais Al Dhalai in recent weeks as the continent bid for change.

Beaumont’s declaration did include the need to review the organisational structure of the sport. An important decision as rugby needs to be a game for all, rather than a game for established nations.

Speaking to Sport360, Al Dhalai said he remains committed to working with Beaumont, but wants clarity on his plans for the near future.

“I believe the World Rugby chairman should now explain further the objectives and the plans for the near future,” he said.

“In terms of reforming the governance structure “voting system”, each union should be allowed one vote in full alignment with the Olympic Charter.

“Given that rugby is also an Olympic sport, it should follow suit the Olympic movement by giving the right to vote to each World Rugby full member so World Rugby proves that it embraces the desirable changes which were addressed by the majority of Asia and non Asian member unions.”

As it stands, the right to vote is unfair as powerhouse nations like England, Ireland, Wales and New Zealand receive three votes each. Japan get two votes, while the United States, Fiji and Georgia have one vote apiece.

Smaller unions are grouped together and given two votes between them, as is the case for Asia which is unfair considering there are 31 member unions – soon to be 34 – under its governing body.

“The voting structure of World Rugby does not make sense to any of us. The system is very clear to favour just a few countries. How come some countries get three votes each while others have one vote?” he said.

“I’m not criticising but I am saying it’s not fair. It only serves the purpose of a few. It should serve the purpose of everyone. Each union should have a vote.”

With a population of 4.5 billion, providing financial support to Asia Rugby should be among Beaumont’s top priorities alongside reforming governance structure.

The continent hosted a successful Rugby World Cup in Japan last year and it is currently home to three legs of the World Sevens Series – the Hong Kong 7s, Singapore 7s and Dubai 7s.

In terms of the development of the sport, five Asian nations are in the world top-20 in the Get Into Rugby programme rankings, a strategy to grow the game globally in partnership with different member regions and unions.

“A region like Asia is massive geographically and the biggest with a youth population worldwide. Shouldn’t providing reasonable funding be something that seems logical and sensible?” he said.

“We got nearly £1.3 million as a region that has 31 member unions and ready to reach very soon 34 members unions.

“We’ve got more than 30 annual competitions, we maintain a solid group of match officials, judicial offices, we are ranked first as a region in the Get Into Rugby programme among all six regional associations.

“Shouldn’t we be looked at with fairer financial funding especially with these days that Covid-19 is affecting the sponsorship market?

“We are all waiting for World Rugby chairman to reach out and provide the objectives he outlined in his candidacy manifesto and we will always work together.”

Al Dhalai, who has been involved with the UAE RF since it was founded in 2009, joined Asia Rugby a year later and was voted in as an executive committee member in 2013, serving as secretary general until 2017.

The Dubai native won the right to become the Asia Rugby president in November after a meeting of the Asia Rugby Executive Committee in Bali, edging his Japanese opponent.

One of his main principles is to be transparent during his time in charge, using his first opportunity to go public with the fact Asia Rugby had voted for Pichot as World Rugby chairman.

“Since I became president in November, I have three main principles: equality, transparency and accountability,” he said.

“Anything we do in Asia now is based on these three principles. You can see now when we announced Agustin Pichot as our preferred World Rugby chairman candidate. It was published, and it was never done before. Asia Rugby has never published openly the candidate for World Rugby.

“I believe the only way to go forward is to be transparent, being equal and express the reasoned view.”

Since stepping into the hot seat at Asia Rugby, Al Dhalai has declared his priorities with organising the competition calendar and boosting the financial resources.

The competition calendar is a difficult one to tackle at present amid the Covid-19 pandemic, but there remains hope to see some rugby action in the second half of the year.

“I am trying to have a structured calendar where the first half of the year will always be for 15-a-side. The second half of the year will always be Sevens,” he said.

“The tournaments for the second half of the year still need to be decided as we monitor the current Covid-19 pandemic.

“This is the first challenge which is having a well-structured tournament competition. That will suit most of the unions because they are diverse.

“The league in Hong Kong might be different from the one in Japan or the one in the UAE. We need to co-ordinate with each member union, check with their domestic league, whether they play 15s or 7s. Based on that, we can establish our Asia Rugby calendar.”

On the financial front, Johny Stavrinou was named as the new CEO in February, a decision which will help drive the governing body forward and establish an attractive product to sell to advertisers.

“In the last five years, Asia Rugby has had no sponsor. My second priority is bringing on board sponsors and maximising our commercial value. The old fashioned way of selling sponsorship is gone. You need to have a strong media presence, you need to utilise your different assets,” said Al Dhalai.

“We have a new CEO now and he is working with our media partner and our sponsorship partner to establish a good, attractive product. It will be rolled out very soon.”

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