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French joy as women reach basketball final

As the last seconds ticked away in France's 81-64 victory over Russia to reach the Olympic women's basketball final, French captain Celine Dumerc began dancing as she dribbled the ball on court.

Unable to contain her joy, she sat the ball upon the court and joined her team-mates in a group hug, everyone dancing on the court at the final buzzer as the celebration of France's first appearance in a women's Olympic hoops final went on and on.

"Everyone is happy and for France they will talk about women's basketball now," Dumerc said.

France has nearly a dozen NBA players and the success of such players as Tony Parker and Boris Diaw has popularized the men's game.

But the men were ousted in the quarter-finals while the women have run through the Olympics undefeated and will play the United States for gold on
Saturday.

"The guys are out so this is for them and the country," said France center Emmeline Ndongue. "Truly I gave everything because we never know what can
happen. Wow, we're in the final. No words. Just cries of happiness."

For French coach Pierre Vincent, the victory means his team might just capture a moment of attention by outlasting the men at London.

"We only exist when we win, and we have won," he said, taking a swipe at his foes as well by saying, "The Russians' lack of humility, over-confidence
and almost arrogance cost them the game."

The Russians, who never led, will play the Aussies for bronze.

"We just didn't play very well," Russia's Becky Hammon said. "We're going to fight like hell to get a bronze."

The French, whose best prior Olympic women's basketball finish was fifth in 2000, are 1-6 against the Americans, who beat Australia 86-73 in the other
semi-final, in Olympic and world championship play, their win coming in 1971.

"When we play basketball, we aren't scared of any team," French starting centre Sandrine Gruda said. "This is a good group. We know how to fight and we
are going to do it on Saturday too."

Forget the US Women's NBA stars are going for their fifth gold medal in a row and that the Americans are on a 40-game Olympic win streak. They might be
a Women's Dream Team. But the French women are living a dream as well.

"It's fantastic. I want to dream everything. I don't want to wake up," said Gruda. "History. This is huge for us. We can't realize what we are living. But
I want to enjoy it all."

Edwige Lawson-Wade scored a game-high 18 points but expected a tear-filled night.

"I will cry the rest of the night with joy," she said. "It's impossible to describe it with words. Maybe it's happiness, adrenaline, everything. We
showed the world we know how to play basketball. We are united and we believe in us."

Four days after beating Russia in a group match, France seized command early despite two early fouls that kept Olympic scoring leader Dumerc on the
bench much of the first half.

The Russians, who never led, came within 42-40 by opening the third quarter with a 9-2 run but France's stayed in front and Dumerc came off the bench to
sink a 3-pointer at the third-quarter buzzer to put France ahead 59-51.

Dumerc's basket launched a 20-5 French run that sealed Russia's fate.

Hammon and Alena Danilochkina each had 13 to lead Russia.

"We should have won this game and probably should be in the final," said Danilochkina. "But now we will make our best effort against Australia. We want
to leave here with a medal." 

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SPORT

French rugby in turmoil as FFR boss gets suspended sentence over corruption

Lawyers for FFR President Bernard Laporte said he was going to appeal against the court's verdict

French rugby in turmoil as FFR boss gets suspended sentence over corruption

French rugby was reeling Tuesday after the president of the country’s governing body Bernard Laporte was handed a two-year suspended prison sentence on corruption charges nine months before France hosts the game’s World Cup.

Fédération Française de Rugby (FFR) president Laporte, 58, was convicted after a French court ruled he showed favouritism in awarding a shirt sponsorship contract for the national side to Mohed Altrad, the billionaire owner of Top 14 champions Montpellier. He was also banned from holding any rugby post for two years. Both are suspended pending an appeal, which Laporte’s lawyer said was imminent.

Laporte later stepped down from his role as vice-chairman of the sport’s global governing body, World Rugby, pending a review by the body’s ethics officer.

“World Rugby notes the decision by World Rugby vice-chairman Bernard Laporte to self-suspend from all positions held within its governance structures with immediate effect following his conviction by the French court in relation to domestic matters, and pending his appeal,” World Rugby said.

“While acknowledging Laporte’s self-suspension and right of appeal, given the serious nature of the verdict World Rugby’s Executive Committee has referred the matter to its independent ethics officer for review in accordance with its integrity code,” it added.

Resignation call
Laporte faces problems on the domestic front, too, with Florian Grill, who narrowly lost to him in the 2020 election for federation chief, calling for Laporte and the entire board to stand down.

“It is unheard of in rugby, this is an earthquake,” Grill told AFP. “We have never before seen a president of the federation condemned to two
years in prison, even if it suspended.

“We think the 40 members of the board of directors should draw the obvious conclusions and resign.”

French Sports Minister Amelie Oudea-Castera said the sentence was an “obstacle for Bernard Laporte to be able, as it stands, to continue his mission in good conditions” as federation president, and called for a “new democratic era to allow French rugby to rebound as quickly as possible and sufficiently healthy and solid, with a governance by the federation that will have the full confidence of the clubs”.

The court found that Laporte ensured a series of marketing decisions favourable to Altrad – who was given an 18-month suspended sentence and
€50,000 euro — in exchange for a €180,000 image licensing contract that was never actually carried out.

Altrad’s lawyer said he would study the decision before deciding on whether to appeal.

At the trial’s close in September, prosecutors said they were seeking a three-year prison sentence for Laporte, of which he should serve one behind bars, and the two others on probation.

The friendship and business links between Laporte and Altrad are at the heart of the case.

It goes back to February 2017, when they signed a deal under which Laporte agreed to appear at Altrad group conferences, and sold his image reproduction rights, in return for €180,000.

But while that sum was  paid to Laporte, prosecutors claim that he neveractually provided the services he signed up for.

Laporte did, however, make several public statements backing Altrad and, in March 2017, signed the €1.8 million deal with the businessman making his namesake firm the first-ever sponsor to appear on the French national team’s jerseys.

The Altrad name and logo still features on the shirts thanks to a follow-up deal negotiated by Laporte in 2018 and which prosecutors say bears all the hallmarks of corruption. It is also on the All Blacks’ national squads’ shirts, and New Zealand Rugby is reportedly seeking an urgent meeting with company officials following the court ruling.

Laporte, formerly a highly successful coach who guided France twice to the World Cup semi-finals (2003 and 2007), was also found guilty of favouritism
with regards to Altrad’s Montpellier Herault Rugby (MHR) club.

He was convicted for intervening with French rugby’s federal disciplinary commission to reduce a fine against the club from €70,000 to €20,000 after several telephone calls from Laporte.

While prosecutors saw this and several more incidents as proof of illicit favouritism, Laporte himself had claimed there was no “cause-effect relationship”.

On the last day of the trial in October, Laporte’s lawyer Fanny Colin accused the prosecution of “confirmation bias” by “taking into account only elements backing their original assumptions”.

The verdict comes only nine months before the Rugby World Cup kicks off in France on September 8, 2023, with matches played in nine stadiums across the country.

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