This is the epilogue of a legal soap opera that has shaken French rugby for several months. Tuesday, December 13, the president of the French Rugby Federation (FFR) was sentenced to two years in prison and a fine of €75,000 by the Paris Criminal Court for having tied “a pact of corruption” with businessman Mohed Altrad, manager of Montpellier Hérault Rugby (MHR), concerning in particular the allocation of sponsorship for the Blues jersey.
The sentence of the boss of French rugby, found guilty of passive corruption, influence peddling, illegal taking of interests and concealment of misuse of corporate assets, was accompanied by a two-year ban on exercising any function related with rugby. Bernard Laporte’s decision to appeal being suspensive, he retains his seat at the FFR, less than ten months from the World Cup in France.
Is it just a temporary reprieve for the former coach of the XV of France? Tuesday evening, the Minister of Sports, Amélie Oudéa-Castéra estimated that his conviction “obstructed” in the pursuit of his mission at the top of the FFR, claiming in fact his replacement at the end of“a new democratic era to allow French rugby to start again on a sufficiently healthy and solid foundation as quickly as possible”.
For his part, Mohed Altrad was found guilty of active bribery, influence peddling, abuse of corporate assets, and received an eighteen-month suspended prison sentence and a €50,000 fine.
The Laporte-Altrad relationship in the sights of the judges
The origin of the case dates back to a series of arbitrations rendered in 2017-2018. Bernard Laporte allegedly used his status to interfere in favor of his friend Mohed Altrad after receiving €180,000 from him in March 2017, under an image contract that was never executed. “Each of his interventions was guided by a bias towards Mohed Altrad”, according to the court, favoring in particular the awarding of the very first sponsorship contract for the jersey in the history of the XV of France to the construction group of Mohed Altrad. At the time, Bernard Laporte brushed off criticism, promising the partnership would pay off “at least 35 million euros” over five years, for the benefit of amateur rugby.
The suspicions of favoritism went further. The president of the FFR would also have intervened to alleviate disciplinary sanctions aimed at the Montpellier club. Indicted for having maintained the postponement of matches for the benefit of the said club, the vice-president of the FFR, Serge Simon, was released. To these legal setbacks is added the recent layoff of the project manager of the organization of the 2023 World Cup, Claude Atcher, for managerial practices judged “alarming”.
The 2023 World Cup in sight
These legal disputes tarnish French rugby and contrast with the state of grace, on the ground, of the France team. Former international fly-half under the Laporte era, Yann Delaigue is however confident in the ability of French rugby to recover from the condemnation of the leader of the federation: “Rugby is, in its very essence, a sport based on the idea that no one is irreplaceable. But this verdict actually turns the oval world upside down a lot, it does not help to give a good image of our sport.. »
Max Guazzini, emblematic president of the Stade Français Paris between 1992 and 2011, sees “a case mounted in a pinch”and prefers to retain the results obtained by the one who was the successful coach of the Parisian club before taking the reins of the XV of France (2000-2007). “Since 2016, Bernard Laporte has fought for the World Cup to take place in our country when it was not won in advance. He chose a coach in the person of Fabien Galthié, who allowed our Blues to return to victory. It is largely thanks to him that tricolor rugby is doing so well. he says to The cross.
As for the supposed interferences of Bernard Laporte, Max Guazzini relativizes: “You really have to know nothing about the practices that are current in our sport to think that a president never intervenes with a disciplinary committee when there is an unjust sanction. »
The future governance of the FFR in question
However, it is the mission of the Federal Committee of Ethics and Professional Conduct of French Rugby, chaired by Bernard Foucher, to make the governance of the FFR more transparent. This entity created in 2016, concomitantly with the arrival of Bernard Laporte, benefited from “the cooperation of the federal authorities”according to this honorary member of the Council of State.
However, this body had no say in the awarding of the sponsorship contract for the Blues jersey to the Altrad group. “The contract had already been concluded, says Bernard Foucher. We simply issued recommendations on the execution of the contract to prevent potential conflicts of interest with Montpellier Hérault Rugby. » In January 2018, seized by the presidents of professional clubs, this same committee recommended the establishment of “safeguards to ensure that there is no possibility of favoritism “.