La­porte bid­ding to be the best

French Rugby Fed­er­a­tion pres­i­dent is con­fi­dent of beat­ing the Ir­ish and South African ap­pli­ca­tions

The Irish Times - Sports Weekend - - FRONT PAGE - Gavin Cum­miskey:

The trans­la­tor ar­rives on time but Bernard La­porte and The Ir­ish Times are early.

The Ir­ish Times (in well-prac­tised French): “Dé­solé, je ne parle pas Fran­cais.”

La­porte (in flaw­less English): “And I apol­o­gise for my poor English.”

When the in­ter­view con­cludes, La­porte slips back into de­cent English.

France na­tional coach for two World Cup cy­cles (1999-2007), the for­mer French Min­is­ter for Sport (2007-09), the rugby brain be­hind Mourad Boud­jel­lal’s cash rich Toulon for five sea­sons (2011-16) and cur­rently, hav­ing switched from poacher to game-keeper, the pres­i­dent of the French Rugby Fed­er­a­tion, asks about Joe Sch­midt’s fu­ture in Ire­land.

La­porte pre­sumes War­ren Gat­land is favourite to be the next All Blacks coach. We dis­agree and ex­plain why.

A man of the 53-year-old’s stature pre­sum­ably knows the an­swers to most ques­tions he asks, es­pe­cially of a jour­nal­ist, but he still won­ders if Sch­midt will re­turn to New Zealand in 2019.

Re­la­tion­ship

We won­der if he will end up in France work­ing for La­porte. He shrugs but seems amenable to the idea.

He asks about Paul O’Con­nell – who he signed for Toulon be­fore in­jury scup­pered the deal – and seems sur­prised to learn he’s work­ing with the Mun­ster academy.

The con­ver­sa­tion flows into the re­la­tion­ship be­tween Sch­midt the coach and O’Con­nell the cap­tain, about how they in­stantly amal­ga­mated the tribes.

Fi­nally, he wants to know what Brian O’Driscoll is up to.

Coach­ing? No, he’s work­ing in me­dia among other ven­tures.

“Brian is a good man,” says La­porte be­fore adding: “Any­thing about this?”

He nods at the Women’s Rugby World Cup poster – we are in the pala­tial French em­bassy on Ailes­bury Road for the French squad’s cham­pagne re­cep­tion.

For La­porte, right now, the pri­mary fo­cus

is to out­wit, out­spend and out-politic the Ir­ish and South African bids for the 2023 World Cup.

Vot­ing takes place on Novem­ber 15th. In the mean­time bid­ders must cir­cum­nav­i­gate the globe (in May the Ir­ish del­e­ga­tion went to Outer Mon­go­lia). Re­quire­ments in­clude an as­tute rugby mind, but equally an ap­pre­ci­a­tion of geopol­i­tics. The IRFU have Dick Spring and O’Driscoll fronting their bid. France have La­porte.

Gavin Cum­miskey: If suc­cess­ful, France 2023 would hap­pen be­fore the Paris Olympics in 2024. You have said they are “mu­tu­ally re­in­forc­ing” but hav­ing vis­ited Ja­pan in June it was clear that both the tour­na­ment or­gan­is­ing com­mit­tee and World Rugby have con­cerns about the Rugby World Cup be­ing over­shad­owed by the Olympics. How do you al­lay such con­cerns?

Bernard La­porte: On the con­trary, it is an added value. We have the best can­di­dacy. The only is­sues that come back are se­cu­rity. The fact that the IOC is go­ing to give the Olympic Games to Paris does show, clearly, when it comes to se­cu­rity that as­sur­ances have been given and there­fore it is good to have the 2024 Games. And then, for self­ish rea­sons, it is al­ways bet­ter to be there be­fore the Olympic Games rather than af­ter.

GC: But World Rugby have ex­pressed an is­sue with their World Cup be­ing in the shadow of the Tokyo Olympics. What can you say to as­suage their fears of re­peat prob­lems?

BL: There is noth­ing to say to World Rugby. It is not World Rugby that will be vot­ing.

GC: But be­fore the vot­ing process on Novem­ber 15th, World Rugby will pub­licly rec­om­mend one of the three bids – Ire­land, France or South Africa...

BL: And I am part of World Rugby be­cause I have been elected, and I have never felt any fears.

GC: Okay, say World Rugby give their of­fi­cial sup­port to Ire­land or South Africa, can France still win the bid?

BL: The aim is to have the best bid and then you have to con­vince [vot­ers]. What we are say­ing is when it comes to the World Cup you have to take into ac­count eco­nomic fac­tors – 94 per cent of World Rurby’s in­come comes from the Rugby World Cup. France has 66 mil­lion in­hab­i­tants – 2.6 mil­lion tick­ets will be sold (only 2.4 mil­lion were sold for Euro 2016) which means over the seven weeks the sta­di­ums will be full. That is the added value.

GC: Re­cently you said: “Driv­ing this project is like a game”. Do you mean it is more pol­i­tics than sport?

BL: I am a player and a rugby coach so com­pe­ti­tion is in me. It is a plea­sure to go and de­fend our bid. Af­ter that, as in ev­ery elec­tion, the rugby as­so­ci­a­tions will de­cide who wins. The fact there are three can­di­dates means we can an­tic­i­pate a sec­ond round. (Switching to English, La­porte adds: “And then the win­ner will be France.”)

GC: You are off on some cru­cial trips in the com­ing weeks – Colom­bia, New Zealand, Italy, Aus­tralia, Wales and Ja­pan – do you need to se­cure votes on these trips, and how do you in­tend to do that?

BL: Ev­ery time we do a pre­sen­ta­tion it is to con­vince peo­ple our bid is the best. Ire­land and South Africa are do­ing the same, but the more coun­tries you go visit the more they can as­sess. Some­body can­not re­ally de­cide upon a bid they have not seen.

GC: It’s true that France has an im­pres­sive record of host­ing ma­jor sport­ing tour­na­ments but what do you see as the ma­jor strengths in the South Africa and Ire­land bids?

BL: I am play­ing my game so I don’t con­cern my­self with the other bids. When you play rugby, if you do every­thing right then it doesn’t mat­ter what the op­po­nent does if you are go­ing to win. Of­ten you lose a game be­cause you haven’t done what you are sup­posed to do. This is the same thing.

GC: That is sport, isn’t this is a lit­tle more com­pli­cated?

BL: No. Every­one has strengths and weak­nesses. I am not go­ing to speak about the weak­nesses of the South African or Ir­ish bids, I am only go­ing to speak about the qual­ity of the French bid.

GC: You men­tioned se­cu­rity. Hav­ing re­cently vis­ited Paris and Nice, the sight of very young yet heav­ily armed soldiers min­gling with tourists on the streets is stark, and every­one un­der­stands why but how do you ex­plain to the rest of the world that France will be a safe coun­try to visit for the Rugby World Cup?

BL: Un­for­tu­nately, with every­thing that has hap­pened, there are state ser­vices that are in place that are very so­phis­ti­cated and I think the fact we got 2024 shows clearly that there are se­cu­rity as­sur­ances that have been given.

GC: You have spo­ken about how strong the French bid is eco­nom­i­cally (¤200 mil­lion was un­der­writ­ten by the French state de­spite World Rugby only need­ing a ¤158 mil­lion guar­an­tee and they pre­dict su­pe­rior ticket sales to Ire­land and South Africa), but mov­ing past profit, and per­haps learn­ing from 2007, why should the World Cup re­turn to France af­ter just 16 years?

BL: First of all we have ex­pe­ri­ence. We know what worked well and what didn’t so that’s an ad­van­tage. Beyond the eco­nomic is­sue, dur­ing the seven weeks we have the qual­ity of air­ports and the qual­ity of trans­port. The qual­ity of our ho­tels – be that for teams or, most im­por­tantly, for fans.

GC: Ire­land has weak­nesses in all those ar­eas, but there is al­most a ro­man­tic idea of the tour­na­ment com­ing to this is­land for the first time – you see that ar­gu­ment and the value of that?

BL: Oui, and I un­der­stand that, of course.

GC: Fi­nally, talk about the im­por­tance of the fi­nal pre­sen­ta­tion in Lon­don on Septem­ber 25th and the pres­ence of Em­manuel Macron?

BL: It is the French pres­i­dent who de­cided to do that, not us. He went to de­fend our can­di­da­ture in Lau­sanne for the Olympic Games and he told us: “I want to come and de­fend the can­di­da­ture.” I didn’t tell him to come.

We have the best can­di­dacy. The only is­sues that come back are se­cu­rity. The fact that the IOC is go­ing to give the Olympic Games to Paris does show, clearly, when it comes to se­cu­rity that as­sur­ances have been given Every­one has strengths and weak­nesses. I am not go­ing to speak about the weak­nesses of the South African or Ir­ish bids, I am only go­ing to speak about the qual­ity of the French bid

Pho­to­graphs: Getty Images/Dara Mac Dó­naill/Peter Thurs­field

Clock­wise from main: The many faces of Bernard La­porte: French Rugby Fed­er­a­tion pres­i­dent; cel­e­brat­ing Toulon’s Euro­pean Cup win in Dublin in 2013; and as France coach.

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