Finally … The reason why South Africa lost the 2023 Rugby World Cup bid to France

The president of the French Rugby Federation Bernard Laporte has been found guilty of corruption. Picture: Paul Childs Reuters

The president of the French Rugby Federation Bernard Laporte has been found guilty of corruption. Picture: Paul Childs Reuters

Published Dec 14, 2022


Johannesburg - The president of the French Rugby Federation Bernard Laporte has been found guilty of corruption, and immediately the minds of South Africans revert to that extraordinary day in November 2017 when a rock-solid bid by South Africa to host the 2023 World Cup mysteriously went to France.

The three contenders were Ireland, South Africa, and France, with the latter finishing a distant second to SA in the vitally important technical review while the Irish dropped out of the race.

This meant that SA earned the recommendation from the Board of World Rugby to host the World Cup and then the matter went before the World Rugby Council for a round of (anonymous) voting, which is usually a rubber stamping of the earlier recommendation, only for France to emerge as shock victors.

I recall very clearly World Rugby chairman Bill Beaumont’s embarrassment as he read out the winner and I will never forget Laporte’s gleeful fist-pumping …

And why wouldn’t he be thrilled? He had been a busy man over the 24 hours between the announcement of Word Rugby’s recommendation and the second round of voting.

It is known that Laporte met with delegates to persuade them to switch from South Africa to France and while this is not illegal, what cannot be proved is if anything was promised to those who jumped the SA ship and pinned their colours to the French mast.

But let’s be frank … how could Rugby Africa, for instance, who are sponsored by SA Rugby and even have their office at SA Rugby’s headquarters, suddenly ditch their benefactors and vote for Laporte’s France?

And also contradict the independent report of World Rugby?

If William Shakespeare had been a reporter covering that World Cup process, he might have written “there is something rotten in the State of France” — he in fact wrote this in 1601 about Denmark in Hamlet and it has become a phrase synonymous with corruption ever since.

On Tuesday, a French court sentenced Laporte to a two-year suspended prison term after he was convicted of showing favouritism in awarding a jersey sponsorship contract for the national team to Mohed Altrad, the billionaire owner of Top 14 champions Montpellier.

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He was also banned from holding any rugby post for two years, but this is suspended pending an appeal.

Shockingly, Laporte is also vice-chairperson of World Rugby, who have said that they are processing the developments and will make an announcement shortly.

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

In October, another French administrator, Claude Atcher, was sacked as Rugby World Cup general manager after a police raid on the World Cup headquarters revealed misconduct.

Interestingly, Atcher was the bid committee chairperson for the France 2023 bid …

Nothing is going to change the fact that the World Cup will be held in France next year — it is too late to change the venue — but the stink emanating from French rugby administration will surely have Francois Pienaar’s SA delegation of 2017 shaking their heads in renewed exasperation and saying “we told you so.”

IOL Sport

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