Bob Latham has gained a seat on the International Rugby Board's executive committee, fulfilling America's longtime goal of a voice among the world body's inner sanctum.
The milestone follows Bernard Lapasset's narrow victory over Bill Beaumont Monday in a disputed contest for chairman. By swinging a 14-12 vote in favor of the incumbent, Japan and a regional body encompassing the US each obtained unprecedented places at the 10-man core of the IRB's council, loosely comparable to an American legislative body.
Tempering the exultation, however, are administrative matters which go to the core of USARFU's prized new membership in the US Olympic Committee.
Last Friday the union's women's collegiate strategic committee sent the board a letter alleging 'ongoing violations by USA Rugby of the membership requirements of the Ted Stevens Olympic and Amateur Sports Act', federal legislation that requires a governing body's funding allocations to correspond with the membership's gender breakdown. Earlier this fall, Boulder was audited by the US Department of Labor regarding accounting of payments to national team players.
To date, the discussion of 'professionalizing' USARFU's board and national office staff has concentrated on business and technical (i.e., sport specific) performance. The Labor Department and gender-equity affairs underline Boulder's corresponding need for legal and bureaucratic competencies.
Latham, a lawyer who has been the union's longtime USOC representative and the sole director to survive from the so-called amateur era, timed his run well.
With France's Lapasset and England's Beaumont both coming from the northern hemisphere, the IRB election sidelined the typical geographic divide in favor of whether to address international rugby's economic imbalances, essentially a question among 'Tier 1' countries, or to proceed with broadening world rugby's governance.
New Zealand and Australia are particularly unhappy with the test game's commercial arrangements, whereby host nations retain most of the revenue. The traditional approach favors countries with larger populations, notably England, France, and South Africa, while discounting the role of visiting teams in drawing crowds and TV audiences. Beaumont spoke to this issue.
Lapasset, credited with completing rugby's drive for readmittance to the Olympic Games, thereby facilitating access to national sports ministries (in America's case, the quasi-governmental USOC), championed structural change to the IRB.
Insular and self-interested, the council has been dominated by the so-called foundation unions, which claim 16 of 26 seats. Argentina, Canada, Italy, and Japan obtained permanent places in
the 1980s 1991, while regional bodies such as the North America and Carribbean Rugby Association debuted in the past decade. The latter have often been held by locally powerful countries which already have representation.
Originally to be decided during the World Cup, the vote was postponed after a tumultuous meeting in Auckland, New Zealand, where the Canadian representing NACRA unexpectedly went for Beaumont. In the interim, Latham took over the regional chair while a Japanese representative assumed Asia's place. Both lined up behind Lapasset, and were promptly voted onto to the executive committee.
'There is a signal in the game that things need to be done a little bit differently', New Zealand chief executive and IRB councilor Steve Tew told the New Zealand Herald. 'There needs to be some changes and in the end there was a very close result for the chairmanship, a tied result for deputy, and tied result for the last two positions on the executive'.
While Latham formally represents a regional grouping, USARFU's opportunity is unmistakeable. Not since Jami Jordan served on the IRB women's committee in the late 1990s has the union been so well positioned.
The case for America turns on its simultaneously being the world's largest, most advanced sports market and a frontier for international rugby, which likes to think of itself as trailing only the Olympic Games and soccer in the global sports pantheon. Past chairmen ranging from Bob Watkins to Neal Brendel, among others, have pushed the brief, resisted by Commonwealth grandees who have pointed to national team or commercial shortcomings.
Thus the US emerges on the world scene because of political skill, rather than economic or competitve power, and so it is ironic that Stevens Act worries have so quickly come to the fore.
'The unequal treatment of men and women ... is reflected in the proposed 2012 budget, previous budgets, the composition of the board, and many other examples, including the allocation of male and female slots for the [USOC] residency program for 7s rugby to be initiated in 2012,' the committee's letter reads.
Chief executive Nigel Melville declined comment. Sue Parker, the committee chair, was not available.
Stevens, like the better-known Title IX, speaks of proportionate rather equal representation, according to independent legal professionals. USARFU's registration breakdown is greater than 3 to 1 in favor of men, according to 2010-11 figures provided by the national office. The San Diego residency program allocates 15 places for men and 8 for women, and would therefore seem to comply.
The committee may be on firmer ground when it comes to the union's budget. It would not be surprising if Eagle and high performance funding do not shake out proportionately in any given year, since the men's and women's quadrennial cycles leading to the World Cup are not the same.
The issue is clouded by the fact that the union does not break out women's Eagle and men's and women's HP spending in its financial statements, let alone publish its budget before the start of the year. The committee pointedly asks that USARFU's 'audit committee and congress be included in the process of bringing USA Rugby’s strategic plans, operations and budgets into compliance with various gender equity laws', although the broader public would still be out of the loop.
The matter also highlights that congress was designed for territorial bodies which no longer represent youth and college participants, who are now governed by state-based organizations and conferences, respectively. School-age players collectively generate the balance of dues revenue, but the Eagle and HP categories comprise the greater share of expenditure.
USARFU officials have previously indicated they are alert to questions of disenfranchisement.