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French accused of exploiting dead rugby star’s sons in bid to host World Cup

French rugby officials havebeen accused of exploiting the late All Black great Jonah Lomu's young sons to promote their bid for the 2023 Rugby World Cup.

French accused of exploiting dead rugby star's sons in bid to host World Cup
Photo: AFP

In a surprise move, the French team produced Lomu's two boys at a function in London on Monday featuring presentations from the rival bidders for the tournament.

The French rugby federation flew seven-year-old Dhyreille and Brayley, eight, over from New Zealand with their mother Nadene for the event.

TVNZ described the pair sitting “awkwardly” on former France winger Sebastien Chabal's knee as he explained why they were backing the bid.

“Dhyreille was born in Marseille when he (Jonah) came to play (three games for Marseille in 2010),” Chabal said.

“As he (Dhyreille) told us earlier, quite simply he is known at school as the 'Frenchie' and Jonah Lomu loved France.”

While the links may appear tenuous, Fairfax New Zealand rugby writer Tony Smith conceded Lomu, the sport's first global superstar who died after years of battling kidney disease, was revered in France and many other parts of the rugby world.

But he questioned the ethics of France using two primary school-age boys, who lost their father less than two years ago, as the face of their bid.

“It might be different if they were in their mid-teens, but Brayley was six and Dhyreille five when their beloved dad died,” he wrote.

Smith said their involvement “run(s) the risk of being accused of a word common to the English and French languages: exploitation”.

He suggested the numerous ex-All Blacks currently plying their trade in France, including the legendary Dan Carter, would have been better bid ambassadors.

Radio Sport NZ host Martin Devlin had similar concerns.

“If you have children and they've gone through the ages of seven and eight, you'll know what I'm talking about, those kids don't know what they're doing there,” he said.

He added: “If you've got a seven and eight-year-old you're exploiting them is what you're doing.”

Rugby commentator Andrew McKenna, from Britain's Talksport, described the French presentation as “bizarre”.

“You've got Sebastien Chabal and Jonah Lomu's kids, everyone's like 'What the hell's going off here?” he told Radio Sport.

“They explained it and said one of them was born in Marseille when Jonah was playing, but (it) all felt a little bit odd.”

The children's involvement also ruffled feathers among commentators in Ireland, which along with South Africa is also bidding for the 2023 tournament.

Irish sports site ball.ie labelled the stunt “emotionally suspect”, while Irish Independent columnist Jack O'Toole said some would find it disturbing.

“When you pluck two kids out of a country on the other side of the world and drop them into the middle of your facade to accentuate their link to their deceased father, it's just desperately insensitive and depressingly sad,” he wrote.

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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