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France wins bid to host Rugby World Cup in 2023

France has won the right to stage the 2023 World Cup, it was announced Wednesday, despite finishing behind rival bidders South Africa in an evaluation report.

France wins bid to host Rugby World Cup in 2023
Photo: AFP
The report, widely criticised by both France and Ireland, the third bidding country, was not binding on the remaining members of the World Rugby Council, who voted in London.
 
World Rugby chiefs denied they had been “humiliated” by France winning the right to stage the 2023 World Cup on Wednesday despite finishing behind South Africa.   
 
Wednesday's decision, announced by World Rugby chairman Bill Beaumont, means France will be staging a World Cup for the second time, having previously hosted the 2007 edition. The tournament also comes a year before France hosts the 2024 Olympic Games.
 
In order to be chosen, the successful bidder needed a simple majority of 20 out of the 39 remaining votes — France, Ireland and South Africa were barred from participating in the ballot.
   
The first round finished with France on 18 votes, 1995 hosts South Africa on 13 and Ireland, who've yet to be the main hosts of a World Cup, eight.
   
With Ireland dropping out, France beat South Africa by 24 votes to 15 in the second round.
 
“We've been fortunate to have three great bids,” said Beaumont after announcing Wednesday's decision.
   
“Certainly delighted for France. It will be a really exciting tournament,” the former England captain added.
   
Last month World Rugby published an evaluation report which said South Africa should be chosen given it had an overall rating of 78.97, compared with 75.88 for France and 72.25 for Ireland, across a range of criteria.
 
The report aimed to provide objective standards for a process previously dogged by allegations of backroom 'horse-trading' between countries.
   
But it immediately came under attack from both France and Ireland, who were rebuked by World Rugby chiefs, including Beaumont, as they reaffirmed their support for its findings.
   
Bernard Laporte, the president of the French Rugby Federation, was especially damning, telling AFP in an interview last month: “On security, we have the same number of points even though there are 52 murders a day in South
Africa. It's crazy.”
   
But Laporte, a former coach of the France national side and a former French government minister, was in more conciliatory mood on Wednesday, saying: “I'm proud France was chosen. We had a solid dossier like our two rivals. We will do our best.”
 
South African 'desolation'
 
South Africa Rugby chief executive Jurie Roux had warned that going against the report's outcome would “laugh in the face of transparency and process”.
   
That led to accusations of arrogance but South Africa officials made no attempt to hide their “bitter disappointment” and “desolation” with Wednesday's vote.
   
SA Rugby president Mark Alexander added in a statement: “We did everything in our power to bring the tournament to South Africa and we expected to have that right confirmed today.”
 
Taking a swipe at the vote, he said the “view of the experts” had been overturned by World Rugby Council members “who may have had other factors to take into account”. Roux complained that the process gone “opaque” over the last two weeks.
   
Beaumont denied World Rugby had been “humiliated” as a result of having the report's recommendation rejected.
   
“Just because it went to France doesn't mean there is humiliation,” he said.
   
“I was involved in a bid (for 2007) with England that got three votes many years ago — two of them were from England — so I can understand the disappointment.”
   
Beaumont, the captain of the 1980 British and Irish Lions beaten in a Test series in South Africa, added: “Like a game of rugby, some you win, some you lose.”
   
The 2023 tournament, the 10th Rugby World Cup, will coincide with what has long been regarded as the 200th anniversary of the sport when William Webb Ellis picked up a ball and ran with it at Rugby School in England.
   
It will follow the 2019 edition in Japan and, for the second time in a row, means a Rugby World Cup will take place a year before the same country stages the Olympics, with Tokyo hosting the 2020 Games.
   
England staged the most recent World Cup in 2015 which saw New Zealand win a second straight title after they triumphed on home soil in 2011.

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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