By Gavin Mortimer
There really isn’t such a thing as a dull day in French rugby. Take last week. On Tuesday the LNR announced with a fanfare that they had agreed a record TV deal with Canal Plus, one worth €71m-a-season for the next five years. On Wednesday, satirical newspaper Le Canard enchaîné (the Gallic equivalent of our own Private Eye) broke a story linking the FFR to a police investigation into money laundering.
Then on Thursday beIN Sport made plain their disgust with the way the TV deal had been agreed and threatened legal action. Oh, and just for good measure there was a fresh blast from Mourad Boudjellal, the Toulon owner threatening to boycott the Top 14 if the television money isn’t more “rationally distributed” this time around.
Let’s start with the new television deal agreed between the LNR and Canal Plus, worth a jaw-dropping €355m over five years. The current broadcasting deal with Canal is miserly in comparison, just €31.7m a season, so understandably the clubs are cock-a-hoop. So is the LNR, conveniently ignoring that only a few months ago some of the clubs were saying they believed nothing less than a €100m-a season deal would suffice.
The LNR has good reason to be chuffed, particularly as on December 2, they were on the brink of signing a deal with Canal Plus worth €66m a season. Yet the day after the news was broken in the Monday edition of Midi Olympique, the deal was off with accusations flying around faster than boots in a ruck. One allegation was that LNR reckoned they could get more out of beIN.
The upshot was the LNR announced no deal had been signed and that bids would be accepted until January 13 with the winner unveiled within 48 hours.
Canal Plus were allegedly furious and lawyers were consulted, and then what happened? On January 10, the bidding process was suspended by the LNR and the next day, according to Midi Olympique, they reopened negotiations with Canal and a deal was duly signed, sealed and delivered.
All of which has left beINSport less than amused and they are now muttering about seeking legal recourse. In a statement they said they “regretted the absence of respect and transparency” in the bidding process, alleging that Canal Plus used the threat of legal action to pressurise the LNR into agreeing to a deal. Certainly it is curious that the LNR signed a deal for €71m-a-season with Canal when BeIN were purportedly ready to offer €80m. in an interview with Le Figaro newspaper last week, BeIN’s director general, Youssef al-Obaidly, indicated his wrath was directed primarily at Canal, “who have done everything to protect their monopoly.”
It short, the whole bidding process has been a farce, albeit one that has considerably enriched the LNR and probably best benefited the fans. Canal Plus have been diligently covering French domestic rugby for two decades and their savoir-faire is unquestionable.
As for the FFR and their own imbroglio, that still has some way to run with Midi Olympique warning in its edition of January 20, that the exposee in last week’s Le Canard enchaîné might have “opened Pandora’s Box”. Certainly the allegations are serious, namely that the FFR is caught up in a money laundering scheme linked to drugs and prostitution in the French underworld. There is no suggestion that those at the heart of the FFR were aware that international tickets were being bought with ‘dirty money’ but nonetheless the last week has not been a good one for the image of French rugby. As Midi Olyimpique lamented in its Monday editorial, money is eating into the ethics of rugby.