London - World Rugby has finally agreed to open its doors to lower-tier unions wanting a say in how the sport is run.
Following the eighth and most successful Rugby World Cup in England, the sport's governing body is expanding the number of unions and voting rights on its new secondary council from May.
World Rugby has been dominated by eight unions — the Home Nations, France, Australia, New Zealand, and South Africa — for more than a century, and 20 years into the professional era, but the globalization of the sport and clamour for fairer representation at the highest level has prompted reforms with cerrtain conditions.
To be eligible for council membership, a union must meet criteria such as five years of unqualified audited accounts, and a fully applied constitution.
In regard to voting rights, just to have one vote, a union must have played in the last two World Cups, as well as have an annual audited average investment in rugby of $30 million over the last four years, have bid or is bidding on a major World Rugby event over the last eight years, have a women's rugby program and either played in qualifiers or competed in the Women's Rugby World Cup, and have a men's and women's sevens program competing internationally.
Those conditions will restrict eligibility for the likes of Pacific Island unions Fiji, Samoa, and Tonga, one of whom has made the quarterfinals at four Rugby World Cups, have players of their descent in most of the major teams, and suffered more than most from having to share one voice and vote on the council.
Despite the planned reforms, the voting power will remain in the hands of the big eight, who will jump to three votes each. The six regional associations will double their voting power with two each.
At the moment, the council includes 27 men; two each from the big eight, and a man from each of the six regions.
Their power will be shifted to a new executive committee, comprising 12 members, including the chairman, vice chairman, chief executive, and nine elected officials, two of them independent.
They will be advised by the new council which will have a maximum of 20 unions and the six regions.
A new women's advisory committee will also be set up.
Bob Latham, the chairman of USA Rugby and the World Rugby council member representing North America and the Caribbean, described the new moves as "a great step forward."
"The World Rugby council will now have a wider range of voices. We are confident that USA Rugby will ... meet the criteria to have our own seat on the council - something that has long been a goal of USA Rugby," Latham said.
"In addition, the added weight to the vote of regional associations shows that World Rugby values the member unions who are not directly represented.