Bernard Laporte steps in to fill void left by sport

Timing was everything for Bernard Laporte on Monday when he began ruffling the feathers of European rugby administrators
Bernard Laporte steps in to fill void left by sport

Timing was everything for Bernard Laporte on Monday when he began

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The day after a weekend that should have seen rugby supporters enthralled by Europe’s elite doing battle in the Heineken Champions Cup quarter-finals, the president of FFR, the French governing body, and World Rugby vice-chairman in waiting, subject to his election to the post next month, used the current suspension in sporting activity to throw a proverbial cat amongst the pigeons.

The Covid-19 pandemic has left us all without sport, roaming social media platforms for glimpses of past glories, and dreaming of better times to come when the coronavirus is under control and the personal freedoms we previously took for granted are restored.

Into the void stepped Laporte, like a United Nations food truck into a famine, promising an exciting future for the club game to feed undernourished fans.

Had we been able to watch the eagerly-anticipated showdowns between Leinster and Saracens, Toulouse and Ulster, Clermont versus Racing 92 and Exeter against Northampton, Laporte’s plans may not have gained as much traction as they did. Our bellies would have been full and already looking forward to the next course of rugby at the business end of the season.

Perhaps it is good that they did get an airing. The former Toulon head coach is seeking election alongside incumbent World Rugby chairman Bill Beaumont and the Club World Cup is an integral part of his manifesto.

The three-time European champion with Toulon wants the Champions Cup replaced with a 20-team tournament split into four pools involving the top four teams from each of the

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This mouth-watering gathering would take place every July except for World Cup years, presumably in a central location, though the plan is light on detail.

Laporte’s assessment of the Champions Cup was blunt, telling French newspaper Midi Olympique: “Let’s be frank, it doesn’t generate enough income.

If we want to develop this Club World Cup, we have to find dates. Without the Champions Cup, there are nine weekends freed up.

That will have stung its organisers European Professional Club Rugby, whose response was to reveal it was in discussions with shareholders about a global club tournament to complement the existing European competitions, once every four years rather than annually.

That appears eminently more sensible given the appetite for European club knockout rugby and the drama the pool stages generate consistently every winter. A Club World Cup every four years would be the cherry on top, a treat worth waiting for.

Yet Laporte’s criticism of EPCR for its inability to generate income commensurate with its position at the pinnacle of the club game has some validity.

It was formed at the behest of England’s Premiership Rugby Limited and France’s Ligue National de Rugby to replace the old Heineken Cup in 2014, reducing the number of participants from 24 to 20 and promising a brave new financial model akin to football’s Champions League, without a title sponsor but buttressed by a phalanx of elite-tier partners who would bankroll the competition and all those who qualified for it.

Yet the new-look Champions Cup struggled to attract the portfolio of blue-chip companies it had hoped could emulate UEFA’s and ahead of the 2018-19 season, Heineken was restored as title sponsor, a tacit admission of the organisation’s failure to deliver on its promise.

With private equity company CVC making sizeable investments into both PRL and the PRO14 and also talking to the Six Nations, rugby is clearly a sport up for grabs.

It needs to be careful in the choices it makes however, even in the midst of a metaphorical famine.

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