Crunch time for Pres­i­dent La­porte ahead of World Cup de­ci­sion

The Rugby Paper - - News -

Le Crunch, a term the French have long used for their en­coun­ters with Eng­land, evokes vi­o­lent rugby pas­sions on both sides of the Chan­nel. It would be en­tirely fit­ting, too, to de­scribe the show­down this week be­tween Bernard La­porte, pres­i­dent of the French Rugby Fed­er­a­tion, and Bill Beau­mont, the English pres­i­dent of World Rugby.

La­porte won two Grand Slams as his na­tional team’s head coach, Beau­mont one as cap­tain of his coun­try and both won do­mes­tic ti­tles as play­ers. The spoils will not go this time, though, to the one who racks up most points in a mael­strom of rucks, grunts and groans.

Rather to the one who cap­tures the most votes at London’s lux­ury Royal Gar­den Ho­tel on Wed­nes­day in a se­cret bal­lot to de­cide whether South Africa, sup­ported by Beau­mont, or France will host the 2023 World Cup.

Not for­get­ting Ire­land, who came third be­hind them both in an of­fi­cial eval­u­a­tion re­port to the global gov­ern­ing body that has rec­om­mended South Africa ahead of France.

Never be­fore has the coun­try backed by World Rugby failed to go on and se­cure the prize in the fi­nal poll.

On the other hand, their stance has never been so hotly crit­i­cised. Es­pe­cially by La­porte, whose ver­bal de­liv­ery when ex­cited re­sem­bles the chat­ter of ma­chine-gun bul­lets.

In­co­her­ent, in­com­pe­tent and neg­li­gent are the three words he used to re­sume his to­tal op­po­si­tion to the con­tro­ver­sial re­port.

Beau­mont, with Bri­tish phlegm, dis­missed his remarks al­to­gether as base­less and mis­taken, adding with ap­par­ent con­de­scen­sion, that dis­ap­point­ment and strong emo­tion was en­tirely un­der­stand­able.

As early as to­mor­row, La­porte will be prowl­ing the thick-pile car­pets of the five-star Kens­ing­ton ho­tel in search of votes and per­haps shar­ing a night­cap with par­tic­i­pants at its cel­e­brated Ber­tie’s Bar.

His first tar­get will by Agustin Pi­chot, the Ar­gen­tine vice-pres­i­dent of World Rugby and one-time scrumhalf for Bris­tol and La­porte’s favourite club, Stade Fran­cais.

He has al­ready en­coun­tered Aziz Bougja, head of the African Con­fed­er­a­tion, at the tra­di­tional Os­cars cer­e­mony or­gan­ised by French rugby pa­per Midi Olympique a few nights ago. And that pub­li­ca­tion echoed his out­rage at the of­fi­cial back­ing for South Africa with a graphic re­port on the hor­rific se­cu­rity night­mares faced by that coun­try.

Pic­tures of ve­hi­cles aflame in the streets and ri­ot­ers in the sights of heav­ily-armed po­lice ac­com­pa­nied the chill­ing claim that there are, on av­er­age, 52 vi­o­lent deaths there ev­ery day. A shock­ing statis­tic that has al­ready led to the can­cel­la­tion in Dur­ban of the 2022 Com­mon­wealth Games. And one which has South Africans play­ing in the Top 14 ready to bear wit­ness.

Agen’s Ricky Jan­uarie, for ex­am­ple, says: “When my wife and three chil­dren see what is hap­pen­ing in South Africa, they tell me they do not want to go back and nei­ther do I.”

Rac­ing flanker An­tonie Claassen re­veals: “When I go back to Pre­to­ria, I have to be very vig­i­lant. In my car, I do not al­ways stop at red lights if it is late.”

And winger Ch­es­lin Kolbe, the new Toulouse sen­sa­tion, says: “It breaks my heart to see all these mur­ders when I am sit­ting qui­etly at home watch­ing the news.”

That is not the only ar­gu­ment La­porte will em­ploy in his quest for a ma­jor­ity. He will re­ject the World Rugby as­ser­tion that South Africa are clearly ahead on the pro­vi­sion of sta­di­ums and ho­tels. And that the fear that doped play­ers could face crim­i­nal pros­e­cu­tion un­der French law is mis­placed and sends out a poor mes­sage for the sport.

Tact has never been a strong point with La­porte, de­spite his brief el­e­va­tion to the min­is­te­rial post of Sec­re­tary of State for Sport.

The stakes are high for him this week even though he in­her­ited the World Cup bid from the pre­vi­ous regime he de­feated a year ago.

For fail­ure would not only de­prive him of some of the funds he has promised to the am­a­teur game that backed his pres­i­den­tial cam­paign, it might also presage a dou­ble whammy be­fore the month is out. The re­sults are im­mi­nent from a gov­ern­ment in­ves­ti­ga­tion into claims La­porte abused his po­si­tion by per­suad­ing a League dis­ci­plinary com­mis­sion to re­duce sanc­tions on Mont­pel­lier pres­i­dent Mo­hed Al­trad.

Al­trad, the Syr­ian bil­lion­naire, has fi­nanced the Fed­er­a­tion in gen­eral and La­porte in par­tic­u­lar with a

“In­co­her­ent, in­com­pe­tent and neg­ligli­gent are the three words La­porte used to re­sume his to­tal op­po­si­tion to the con­tro­ver­sial re­port”

per­sonal con­tract the lat­ter was obliged to tear up once it be­came pub­lic.

La­porte’s en­dur­ing en­thu­si­asm for busi­ness af­fairs has be­come a sen­si­tive point with him down the years.

Fac­ing a par­lia­men­tary com­mis­sion in the week, he de­clared to one close ques­tioner that he would never en­ter a gov­ern­ment min­istry.

The probe was over a London com­pany La­porte set up with a pow­er­ful TV di­rec­tor and oth­ers four years ago. A satir­i­cal pa­per has just re­vealed its ex­is­tence which he de­scribes as a so­cial me­dia plat­form.

Oth­ers have ad­mit­ted it may one day be used to ac­quire the TV rights to ma­jor sport­ing events, an even­tu­al­ity that would cre­ate a con­flict of in­ter­est for La­porte.

His only in­ter­est in the next few days, though, cen­tres on glad-hand­ing and his un­doubted power of per­sua­sion. Beau­mont, who per­son­i­fies the op­po­si­tion, was once a ge­nial cap­tain in the TV se­ries A Ques­tion of Sport. He ap­pears con­fi­dent he has the an­swer to the one that con­cerns him now.

PIC­TURE: Getty Images

Touch­ing gloves: Bill Beau­mont and Bernard La­porte

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