French president Emmanuel Macron’s has withdrawn as head of France’s delegation to visit World Rugby in London, on September 25th, amidst the latest scandal to engulf French rugby, the timing could not be much worse, just when a pivotal presentation needs to be made in a bid to host the 2023 Rugby World Cup.
Rival bidders Ireland and South Africa must be rubbing their hands with glee.
Macron originally announced with great pride that he would be happy to personally lead the presentation, one of five to speak on behalf of the French bid.
The reason for the presidents change of heart has been officially been given as ‘a clash in schedule’ but the recent scandal that has engulfed French rugby president Bernard Laporte is the more likely explanation, and the fact that France’s minister for sport Laura Flessel has ordered an inquiry into the affair, makes it even more understandable why the President has chosen to distance himself from the situation.
Laporte, a former French national coach and a sports minister under Nicolas Sarkozy’s government, was accused of using his direct influence to have disciplinary sanctions against Montpellier reduced by the French Federation de Rugby appeals committee, as a result seven members of the appeals board resigned.
Monpellier rugby club is owned by Syrian-born billionaire businessman Mohed Altrad with whom Bernard Laporte had a direct business relationship.
Also Altrad’s construction company became the first ever shirt sponsors of the French team this year, and he is also a partner in France’s 2023 World Cup bid.
It was also revealed, last month, that Altrad Investment Authority, owned by Altrad, and BL Communication, managed by Laporte, signed a one-year partnership last February.
Montpellier were fined €70,000 and hit by a one-match stadium ban for allowing fans to display banners protesting against the proposed merger between Top 14 teams Racing 92 and Stade Francais last April.
It was reduced the day after it was imposed in June to a €20,000 fine only after Laporte made a phone call to the relevant appeals board.
Laporte rejected the allegations, telling “Le Parisien” newspaper that he didn’t try to influence the board’s decision but telephoned appeals board chairman Jean-Daniel Simonet to offer “political perspective”.
“Journal du Dimanche” obtained a letter written by appeals board member Philippe Peyramaure to the chairman of the committee, Simonet in which he stated: “I was advised that the president of the federation [Laporte] had intervened to ask that we modify our decision in a way more favourable to Montpellier.”
That refers to an alleged phone call between Laporte and Simonet in which Laporte advocated a softening of the original sanction.
The startling fact is that Since June 30th, seven members of the appeals board have resigned.
Laporte argued that he stepped in to avoid further conflict between the French Rugby Federation and the League Nationale de Rugby (LNR), who are not exactly the best of buddies, a fact underlined by the failed merger of the two Paris Top 14 clubs, Racing 92 and Stade Francais, which ended up in the French courts.
The newspaper “Journal du Dimanche” obtained a letter written by appeals board member Philippe Peyramaure to the chairman of the committee, Simonet in which he stated: “I was advised that the president of the federation [Laporte] had intervened to ask that we modify our decision in a way more favourable to Montpellier.”
“My office has talked with him, he has submitted files, we are in full reflection. We expect further feedback and then we will have to decide,” she said.
She added that France’s 2023 Rugby World Cup bid would go ahead “with or without” Laporte’s involvement.
Just when you thought things couldn’t get any worse for France’s world cup bid the French federation were forced into a public apology by World Rugby, for a tweet they posted, in which they suggested that a technical study conducted by World Rugby had France ahead in the race to host the 2023 World Cup.
The FFR tweeted the following apology on Thursday morning: “The FFR apologise for an inaccurate and misleading tweet it published on September 5 regarding the evaluation phase of the host selection process. It was incorrect to state that as a result of a technical study by World Rugby, the FFR is the leading candidate to host the 2023 Rugby World Cup.
“The FFR respects that the host selection and evaluation process is not complete and we reiterate our full support for a fair and robust process operated by World Rugby and its independent advisors.”
And to make matters even worse Phillipe Folliot, president of Rugby Parliamentary Friendship Society in France who, whilst supporting the Rugby World Cup bid, described it as “a big dress rehearsal” for the 2024 Paris Olympics adding that it was a “chance to test security”.
World Rugby are going to love their tournament being thought of as an aperitif to the Olympics, and if there is an event for the individual shooting of feet in the Paris Olympics, then France will bring home the gold.
Ireland, France and South Africa will make their final presentations to World Rugby in London on September 25th while the host for the 2023 Rugby World Cup will be announced at the governing body’s council meeting on November 15th.