French sport is sick, it needs an operation

The France of professional sports is sick. Seriously ill. It is just over a year since the Summer Olympics in Paris, which every week opens with a new scandal involving the leader of a leading sports federation. The latest twist: the long-awaited resignation of French Rugby Federation president Bernard Laporte this Friday, January 27.

On July 26, 2024, the opening ceremony of the Olympic Games, where the virtues of sports are glorified at the world level, will be held in the center of Paris, on the River Seine. But behind the scenes of the sports business, everything is shaking in France. The president of the very powerful French Football Federation, Noel Le Graet, is accused of harassment. The president of the French Rugby Federation, Bernard Laporte, has just been taken into police custody and his resignation was announced this Friday, January 27, by sports minister Amélie Oudea-Castera. And Bruno Martini, president of the National Handball League, received a one-year suspended prison sentence this Wednesday, January 25. “Corruption of minors and possession of child pornography”, after pleading guilty.

The shameless facade of health

Football, rugby, handball. On these three fronts, French sport must show unabashed health. In Qatar, the Blues nearly clinched their second consecutive World Cup Grail after losing a legendary final against Argentina. On the rugby side, France’s XV hit a Grand Slam in the Six Nations in 2022, before the Oval World Cup takes place in France from September 8 to October 28. On the handball side, the Bruno Martini pedophile scandal coincides with a time when France has just knocked Germany out of the World Cup 1/4 finals!

Where is the problem? The answer is simple. It can be summed up in three words: abuse of power. And that turns into one weakness: antiquated governance, where the weight of personalities has long outweighed transparency. In a country dominated by public power, where the state is everywhere, sports federations have turned into fortresses ruled by supreme barons.

In the world of football, 82-year-old Breton Noel Le Graet was able to silence departmental federations. Among the rugby players, the 58-year-old former player and coach Bernard Laporte signed a contract with one of the most influential entrepreneurs in the oval ball: the scaffolding billionaire, the main shareholder of the Montpellier club Mohed Altrad. In the Handball League, the 1.95-meter giant Bruno Martini held the world champion title on his shoulder in 1995 and kept his opponents at a distance.

All three knew how to distribute blessings, “Bring back the elevators”, they put their opponents aside. “The world of sports has two levers that impress politicians: money and popular audiences. “They have had a kind of immunity and impunity for a very long time.” France Info Vincent Chaudel, sports economist judge on Wednesday.

Government control is weak

Two years ago, another case made French sports headlines: the case of the Ice Sports Federation, whose historic president, Didier Gailhaguet, eventually had to resign in the face of accusations of sexual abuse. Can we generalize? Are the businesses the same? The answer is unfortunately yes. In any case, state control was long gone. Indirect ballots that elect the heads of national federations are locked and sometimes rigged. It is no coincidence that the French Rugby Federation initiated a referendum to replace Bernard Laporte. On Wednesday, the clubs finally voted 51% against the latter’s candidate. It’s a tight score despite his resignation, which took place on Friday. “Loyalty does not disappear overnight. Loyalty is very important in sports, so…” judges the journalist Team.

The point is that the French state is also unable to clean up the preparations for the Olympic Games. For months, the National Olympic and Sports Committee (CNOSF) has been divided. Its president, Brigitte Henriques, who was elected in June 2021, was allocated approximately 4,000 euros for certain expenses by an internal audit. How to get out? It is impossible to bet on public intervention, because the respective federations will then be expelled from their international bodies. The main issue for all sports business connoisseurs is the renewal of the management staff. Disconnect with the generation of leaders that emerged in the 2000s. Encourage leaders who fully understand the #MeToo revolution.

French sport is sick. At this stage, and given the pressure of events such as the Rugby World Cup and the 2024 Olympics, surgery is essential in human resources to remove proliferating tumors.

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