World Rugby, its regional associations and unions have been leading the tributes to Bernard Lapasset, who confirmed on Wednesday that he will not be seeking re-election as Chairman of the international federation in May.
Lapasset, who is stepping down to concentrate on his role as co-chairman of the Paris 2024 Olympic Games bid committee, will be remembered as a visionary during two terms as chairman that have seen rugby firmly establish itself as a global sport with record participation, audience and commercial growth, record-breaking Rugby World Cups, Sevens' Olympic Games inclusion, a new brand and identity and governance reform.
Lapasset informed his World Rugby Executive Committee colleagues in Dublin on Wednesday, saying: "After careful consideration I have taken the decision not to seek a further term of office as Chairman of World Rugby. I feel that this is the right time for me to complete my current term and pass on the ball to one of my superb colleagues.
"Rugby has never been healthier and I am so proud of what we have achieved in growing the game around the globe, securing rugby sevens on the Olympic programme, staging wonderful tournaments, including Rugby World Cup 2015, taking the women's game to new levels and properly addressing key issues such as governance and player welfare.
"I am proud of my time at the helm of World Rugby and excited by what lies ahead for our sport, including the debut of Sevens at Rio 2016.
"On a personal note I want to say a big thank you to all those who contribute so much to keep the game so alive and well and particularly to all my colleagues who serve World Rugby in many different ways and at every level of the game. I will stay in touch.
"My decision will allow me to stay connected to the game I love while now devoting more time to my role as co-chairman of the Paris 2024 Olympic and Paralympic Games bid. We are now entering into the heart of the campaign and nothing would give me greater pleasure than bringing the Games back to Paris for a real centenary celebration of Olympism in 2024. I hope to have the honour of being part of a successful bid from my home country, something that would be so special for me personally and for the people of France.”
World Rugby Chief Executive Brett Gosper led the tributes: "Bernard Lapasset is a wonderful ambassador for our sport, a great leader and a true visionary, who has presided over unparalleled growth and success in our sport.
"Throughout his tenure, his passion and dedication has always been evident and he has always been a beacon for transparency, inclusivity and a champion of rugby's character-building values. He should be proud of where the sport is today and what World Rugby, its unions and the sport has achieved during his chairmanship.
"I know that I speak on behalf of the global rugby family when I thank him for his immense contribution and wish him all the very best when he begins a new and exciting chapter in his remarkable sporting life later this year.”
In accordance with World Rugby Bye-Law 9.6.2 (c), member unions are invited to submit nominations for the position of World Rugby Chairman and/or Vice-Chairman by the closing date of March 12, 2016. The election will take place at the Annual Meeting of Council in Dublin in May.
In line with the electoral process set out under the Bye-Law, a candidate must be proposed and seconded by a member of Council and achieve a simple majority of the votes held by the members of Council present. The vote numbers will be published.