Last hours of the battle for the first post of France Rugby

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The French Rugby Federation led by Bernard Laporte announced this week an increase in the number of players registered at the start of the season compared to the same period last year. While the news is apparently good for gambling in France, the registration period is far from over. So, the unusual timing of the announcement is notable and it is not because of the coronavirus.News that the number of registered players in France was more than 8,800 higher than at the start of October 2019 when, traditionally, only two-thirds of player registrations are complete, erupted with the start of voting in the election. presidential election of the FFR.

Outside of rugby in France, the fact that Laporte was re-elected had pretty much sailed under a radar submerged by Covid-19. At least, until last week, when the President – together with Mohed Altrad, the vice-president of the FFR Serge Simon, the head of the 2023 World Cup was Claude Atcher, and the head of international relations of the FFR Nicolas Hourquet – were arrested in connection with three year-old police investigations into a conflict of interest scandal.

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There is never a good time to spend 35 hours in police custody before being released without charge. But the timing, ten days before the election, could not have been worse for Laporte. He swayed out, suggesting the arrests were part of a plot programmed to affect his electoral chances.

Opponent Florian Grill practically declined to comment on the arrests, though he scoffed at Laporte’s conspiracy theory. He even gave an interview while Laporte was in custody in order to decline to comment and – in 2016 American electoral parlance – “go high when they go low”.

But who is the man who would be president? Outside of French rugby circles, the 54-year-old is relatively unknown. He is the founder, president and CEO of the marketing and media consultancy firm CoSpirit MediaTrack. He owns a wine estate near Montpellier – and has been president of the Ile-de-France Regional Rugby League since 2017 following the first electronic voting procedure in French rugby history.

A similar electronic voting process is used for the presidential election of the FFR. The result should be known early on Saturday afternoon. Grill was a friend of former FFR president Pierre Camou and was an active supporter of his campaign when he was ousted in 2016 by Laporte. Camou passed away in August 2018, having been a key member of France’s successful bid to host the 2023 Rugby World Cup.

He announced his candidacy for first place in French rugby in June 2019 and officially launched his campaign in January with the support of a formidable list of supporters, including Serge Blanco, Eric Champ, Abdelatif Benazzi, Thomas Castaignede, Jean-Marc Lhermet – who would become vice-president of the FFR if Grill wins on Saturday, the former French chief of referees Didier Mené, Fabien Pelous, Julien Pierre and Jean-Claude Skrela.

It’s no surprise that Guy Noves is a fan, given the history between him and Laporte. The same goes for another coach of France, Marc Lievremont. Grill wants to warm up the generally icy relationship between the FFR and the LNR, which runs the professional game in France, so it probably also has the tacit support of outgoing LNR president Paul Goze, whose second and final term is almost over.

It also plans to allocate € 2 million per year over four years to clubs that commit to developing rugby in primary schools as part of a project known as 1000 School Ambassadors and raising awareness of rugby safety projects in schools; seeks to modernize the image of rugby in France to attract young people to football; and wishes to create a series of more localized “rugby territories” in collaboration with the French amateur leagues.

For most of his campaign, Grill was – according to periodic polls in sports pages – well behind Laporte in the race. But after Laporte’s arrest and release, the polls were much closer. One, in Le Figaro, showed Grill slightly ahead and drew the ire of the current president, who said the investigation was flawed.

Laporte initially won the presidency by courting amateur clubs and repeated the round with smaller nations in guiding France’s World Cup bid. He plays the same tune again, seeking to consolidate his place at the top of the FFR table by appealing to those not at the top of the game.

He pledged to spend part of the estimated 13 million euros per year that the FFR would receive from the high-profile but not yet confirmed Six Nations deal with CVC to cover all referee costs in the amateur game, saving several thousands of euros to clubs. year.

He wants to use the push towards the 2023 World Cup to attract 100,000 more players to the game in France, in part by using the rejuvenated international side as a showcase. And he said he would remove a layer of administration by creating direct financial and advisory links between the FFR and the clubs. Currently, FFR funds go to leagues in France, which then distribute money to clubs.

He too has a long list of supporters. Simon, his vice-chairman, Atcher and Altrad are at the top of a list which includes Thomas Lombard of Stade Français; the former owner of Toulon Mourad Boudjellal; The legendary owner of the Stade Français Max Guazzini; the former French internationals Guilhem Guirado, Pascal Pape and Serge Betsen; Top 14 club presidents Didier Lacroix and Jeff Fonteneau. Current France coach Fabien Galthie, who recently described his rugby career as “inextricably linked” to Laporte and wondered about his own future if Grill was elected, is also in the camp of the current president.

But there is no doubt that his campaign, which saw him host 28 meetings in just over a month from mid-August, has been derailed by what happened less than fifteen ago. days in Paris. Who will be the next president of the FFR? We should find out on Saturday.

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