He's won the French rugby presidential election, so what's next for Bernard Laporte?
Finally, a 2016 election that the pollsters got right! Bernard Laporte’s victory in Saturday’s FFR election wasn’t a surprise, although his 53% share of the vote did startle many within France, who expected the incumbent, Pierre Camou, to run the former Toulon closer. But Camou trailed a distant second with 35%, while the outsider, Alain Doucet, polled a respectable 12%. Now Laporte is the most powerful man in French rugby but as he finds his feet at FFR HQ what is top of his in-tray?
One of Laporte’s key campaigning issues was a promise to scrap the new national stadium proposed by Pierre Camou. Scheduled to open in 2021 in Essonne, south of Paris, the stadium will cost around €600m, money that Laporte believes would be far better invested in strengthening the grass roots. As for where France would play their Tests, Laporte plans to meet the owners of the Stade de France to discuss a better rate for the hire of the venue (the FFR currently pays approximately €700,000 for each international) but he’s said he would like to see more Internationals played outside the capital.
On Saturday afternoon, not long after Laporte’s victory, his campaign manager Serge Simon promised to “instigate very quickly the terms that should lead to the halt” of the new stadium’s construction. But it might not be as straightforward as Laporte envisages. The project was launched in 2010 by Camou and Serge Blanco, and contracts have been signed with the architects and construction company. “There are factors which one cannot simply erase with the stroke of a pen,” warned Francis Chouat, the local mayor, adding that “it was far too early to talk of a definite end to the project”.
It could be that Laporte, with his pledge to decentralise the FFR, will put the new national stadium to the vote and let the clubs of France decide.
According to Monday’s Midi Olympique, Laporte and France coach Guy Noves could meet this week to discuss their differences. There’s little love lost between the pair – dating back more than a decade when Laporte coached the national team and Noves was in charge at Toulouse – and Noves’s public declaration of loyalty for Camou on Friday was perhaps a little imprudent. Then again, it may have been a deliberate provocation on Noves’s part, a challenge to Laporte to put up or shut up.
Though Laporte backed Noves to continue as coach last week, rumours continue to appear in the French press that Laporte is biding his time, with both Le Figaro and Le Parisien newspapers stating on Monday that Fabien Galthié is in line for the top job.
Laporte has already stated what he wants to see more of from Les Bleus, saying: “France must win but also communicate more. To create a dream, to make the kids want to play rugby, one needs a media presence.” This isn’t Noves’s way – and Le Figaro alleges it is causing tension with certain commercial partners – and the two seem on a collision course. Bearing in mind that Noves turned his back on the France national team as a player, it’s not beyond the realm of possibility that he jumps before he is pushed.
Top 14 clubs
“This convention, it’s not me who signed it. So we should discuss it, but in the interest of all.” So said Bernard Laporte recently, referencing the convention signed by the FFR and the LNR at the start of July. Laporte was critical of the agreement from the start, accusing Camou and Paul Goze, president of the LNR, of “electoral manoeuvring” in an attempt to create an alliance that would lead to his defeat in the election. Now that he’s president, Laporte is threatening to make several changes to the existing arrangement that will also affect the broadcasting deal in place between the LNR and Canal Plus.
Notably he wants to scrap the televised matches on a Sunday afternoon, as they clash with the kick-off times in the amateur game. Additionally he wants to reduce the number of foreigners in the Top 14 and ProD2, and finally Laporte wants to put the France internationals on central contracts for six months of the year. Judging by the comments of Clermont president Eric de Cromières on Monday, Laporte has a fight on his hands. Reminding Laporte that the convention runs until 2020, de Cromières said an attempt to abrogate it could end up in the courts.
2023 World Cup bid
Laporte wants to finish what Camou started by bringing the World Cup back to France in 2023, 16 years after it last staged the tournament. He’s already assembled a team specifically to work on the French bid and, according to Midi Olympique, Laporte intends to meet Bill Beaumont, chairman of World Rugby, and Brett Gosper, the CEO, in the near future to discuss France’s candidacy.
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