Next year’s Rugby World Cup was thrown under a cloud yesterday [TUES] after Bernard Laporte, vice-president of World Rugby and president of the French Rugby Federation (FFR), was sentenced to a two-year suspended prison sentence and fined €75,000 (£64,000) less than a year before France hosts the world centerpiece of rugby.
Laporte, who was running mate of world governing body chairman Bill Beaumont, for re-election in 2020was found guilty of an illegal conflict of interest, insider influence and four cases of passive bribery, each ‘guided by a bias towards’ Montpellier president, FFR backer and close friend Mohed Altrad.
World Rugby has confirmed that its executive committee will meet on Tuesday evening to determine its next steps alongside its own independent integrity officer. Laporte was found guilty of four out of five corruption charges by a French court on Tuesday, while Altrad received an 18-month suspended prison sentence and a fine of 50,000 euros for active bribery, influence of insiders and abuse of company assets.
Laporte has also been banned from any connection with French rugby – including the presidency of the FFR – for two years, a sentence which will be suspended given the confirmation of the appeal of the 58-year-old. Altrad’s lawyer said he would study the decision further before deciding whether to appeal Laporte.
The FFR said on Tuesday evening that Laporte would remain president pending the outcome of his appeal, although Florian Gill, the leader of Laporte’s opposition party on the FFR’s executive committee, called for his resignation and that of the FFR. board of directors, a conviction supported by French sport. Minister, Amélie Oudéa-Castéra.
“It’s unheard of in rugby, it’s an earthquake,” Gill told AFP.
“We have never seen a president of the federation sentenced to two years in prison, even if it is suspended.
“We believe the 40 board members should draw the obvious conclusions and resign.”
Claude Atcher, the sacked general manager of the 2023 World Cup who oversaw an alleged “climate of terror” within the French organizing committee, was also fined 5,000 euros for “acts of undeclared work”, while Serge Simon, the former vice-president of the FFR, was cleared of an unlawful charge of conflict of interest.
Laporte’s conflict of interest charge relates to a contract he signed with insurance company AIA between 2017 and 2018, while the four accepting bribes charges relate to Altrad’s intention to buy the side from the Premiership, Gloucester – which Laporte voted in favor of – a partnership contract for the 2023 World Cup, a report for a match between Montpellier and Racing 92, and the signing of the contract, won by the Altrad group, to sponsor the jerseys of the France team.
Altrad Group was also a sponsor of the 2021 Women’s Rugby World Cup and signed a deal in August 2021 to sponsor All Blacks shirts.
With the World Cup in France less than a year away and French rugby going through a period of positive revolution – earlier this year Les Bleus won their first Grand Slam since 2010 and finished 2023 unbeaten – this news would have could not have come at a worse time for the world. Rugby.
A spokesperson said: “World Rugby takes note of the decision of the French court to convict the president of the French Rugby Federation (FFR) and vice-president of World Rugby Bernard Laporte on charges of corruption related to national matters. .
“The World Rugby Executive Committee will meet tonight to determine next steps in accordance with the International Federation’s Code of Integrity. A further update will be provided after the meeting.”
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