World Rugby can’t quite put an end to dark arts of the se­cret bal­lot

Sunday Independent (Ireland) - Sport - - RUGBY - BREN­DAN FANNING

IT was hard to avoid the ‘T’ word in the build-up to last week’s RWC pre­sen­ta­tions. As part of the need for ‘trans­parency’ the whole process around set­tling on a bid to rec­om­mend to the vot­ers had been ramped up.

Back in 2009, World Rugby (WR) had rec­om­mended to its coun­cil that Eng­land should get the tour­na­ment in 2015, fol­lowed by Ja­pan in 2019. This time an out­side agency has been hired to put a for­mula on exactly how the fairest scor­ing sys­tem could be em­ployed. In the in­ter­ests of trans­parency.

So, for the next month this process will be played out. Then, on Oc­to­ber 31, WR will an­nounce a rec­om­mended bid­der, or per­haps they might say it’s a three-way tie, which wouldn’t be very help­ful.

On Novem­ber 15 the coun­cil will con­vene, again in London, and — WR hopes — fol­low its lead. So why after all this in­vest­ment of time and ef­fort in putting the sys­tem to­gether, will those same coun­cil mem­bers not be asked to stand over their votes? Rather they will take part in a se­cret bal­lot.

You can check out a va­ri­ety of def­i­ni­tions of a se­cret bal­lot. The fol­low­ing, for ex­am­ple, can be found in the A method of vot­ing that en­sures that all votes are cast in se­cret, so that the voter is not in­flu­enced by any other in­di­vid­ual, and at the time of vot­ing no one else knows who the voter chose.

The idea that a vote in se­cret is a vote free of in­flu­ence is as close to re­al­ity as the pres­i­dent of the United States is to lead­ing the free world.

It is hardly fan­ci­ful to imag­ine a sit­u­a­tion where a rugby na­tion might in­di­cate loy­alty to one of the bid­ders, only for that po­si­tion to change on the back of a bet­ter offer from some­one else. In that case, to be able to cast your vote in se­cret would be the very essence of con­ve­nience.

Back in 2005, when WR (or the IRB as they were known then) were con­duct­ing the con­test to see who would host the 2011 World Cup, it got ugly after Ire­land’s Noel Mur­phy sug­gested that the se­crecy of the bal­lot ex­tend to keeping the ac­tual tal­lies un­der wraps. So when do­ing the sums at the end of the first round, after which the worst-per­form­ing of the three bid­ders would be ditched, no one would know just how close a call it had been, if in­deed it had been close at all.

The motion was passed unan­i­mously; the South Africans bombed with just four votes; and from that they in­ferred that Ire­land had been cov­er­ing their tracks. They had no ev­i­dence for this. Mur­phy’s ra­tio­nale was that with all sorts of po­lit­i­cal heavy­weights in the room, it would be best to spare the loser’s blushes if in­deed his/her country had just got their asses kicked.

Nev­er­the­less, in the fall-out it dawned on the IRB that get­ting the process out in the open would be good for business. That’s where the move to mak­ing a for­mal rec­om­men­da­tion came from.

Still, however, they are stop­ping short of get­ting all the votes on the table. Seem­ingly, World Rugby think that se­crecy is the best friend of in­de­pen­dence.

“The en­tire Rugby World Cup host se­lec­tion process was re­designed for 2023 in con­junc­tion with the Sports Con­sul­tancy (a UK agency),” a WR spokesman told us last week. “It was agreed by all mem­ber unions, it is in line with in­ter­na­tional best prac­tice for good gov­er­nance as well as other ma­jor sport­ing events and has been clearly com­mu­ni­cated from the out­set.”

If in­ter­na­tional best prac­tice is what the lads in FIFA and the IOC get up to then it ain’t what it’s cracked up to be. And if good gov­er­nance is what you’re after, and you’ve just gone to the trou­ble of tak­ing the process as far above board as pos­si­ble, then hav­ing the ac­tual votes cast un­der the table shows a lack of ap­petite for your stated ob­jec­tive. We don’t sup­pose, in Novem­ber, there will be a Mur­phye­seque char­ac­ter who sug­gests to all present that they change the pro­ce­dure a wee bit. Maybe next time.

It would be best to spare the loser’s blushes

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