Los Angeles - In a political fight to control the direction of global rugby for the next four years, Frenchman Bernard Lapasset edged former England captain Bill Beaumont on Monday to remain in charge.
Lapasset was elected to a second consecutive term as chairman of the International Rugby Board in a 14-12 vote over vice chairman Bill Beaumont by the IRB Council at a meeting near Los Angeles International Airport.
Lapasset, a former president of the French Rugby Federation, played a key role in France's successful bid for the 2007 World Cup. He dubbed the slim victory by a clearly divided council a mandate.
"I'm honored to accept the mandate of the council to serve as chairman for another term," he said. "Together we must work to ensure that our sport remains strong for all our unions and is able to continue its phenomenal growth around the world."
During the Frenchman's tenure, rugby returned to the Olympics with sevens set for the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Games, Argentina joined Southern Hemisphere rivals South Africa, New Zealand and Australia in the new Four Nations event and Japan was named to host the 2019 World Cup, the first to be staged in Asia.
"We have fantastic opportunities to grow the game, to reach new markets and welcome new members to the rugby family," Lapasset said.
Lapasset will begin a new four-year term on January 1, 2012, as a result of the first-ballot triumph and he cast the deciding vote in another election that booted his challenger Beaumont out of the vice-chairman's post as of January 1.
South African Rugby Union chairman Oregan Hoskins was elected as the new IRB vice chairman. After two rounds of voting were deadlocked at 13-13, chairman Lapasset cast his tie-breaking vote for Hoskins, denying Beaumont re-election.
"I am looking forward to working in partnership with Bernard and my colleagues on council to ensure that Rugby is best placed to thrive as a sport at both the elite and community levels as we continue to build the platform for sustainable growth in the decade ahead," Hoskins said.
Lapasset praised Beaumont after casting the vote to oust him as number two.
"As vice chairman, Bill has been at the very heart of driving forward the policies that have successfully delivered the foundations for our sport to flourish over the next decade," Lapasset said.
Privately, Beaumont is understood to believe Lapasset reneged on a 'gentleman's agreement' to allow him a free run at becoming chairman.
Beaumont, who captained and later managed the British and Irish Lions, was expected to support an independent review of the IRB's governance structure had he been elected.
The votes originally were to have come in Auckland ahead of the Rugby World Cup final in October, but the council instead decided to postpone a decision that might have overshadowed the build-up to the sport's showcase match.
Each camp sought to secure votes from smaller nations with threats of lost financial backing and developmental tours if they voted for the opposition.
That set the odd stage of Los Angeles, the most convenient air destination for rugby leaders from all corners of the globe, for the crucial meeting.
The pressure was on for rugby's leaders to take the decision across the line as both Lapasset, 64, and Beaumont, 59, were out at year's end.
Seven representatives were elected to the IRB executive committee, including Beaumont, American Bob Latham, Irishman Peter Boyle, New Zealand's Graham Mourie, Australia's Peter McGrath, Italy's Giancarlo Dondi and Tatsuzo Yabe, the first Japanese representative on the executive panel.