“It’s been a long time since we’ve heard a French prime minister talk about Rugby League,” said a colleague from a Toulouse newspaper after last Tuesday’s press conference announcing France to host the 2025 World Cup.
This was an exceptional event by any measure, covered in the print media around the world, with Jean Castex taking 24 minutes to declare France the venue for the match for the first time in more than half a century.
The enthusiasm in the Prime Minister’s voice was almost palpable as he declared his country’s “unconditional support” for a project that fits into a policy of welcoming and promoting major international competitions in France, three of which are coming in quick succession, with the Rugby Union World Cup, the Paris Olympics and now the Rugby League World Cup.
He has a personal interest. Born in the very rural department of the Gers, whose only town of any size is the capital with 22,000 inhabitants, Auch – home of the late Jacques Fouroux – explained it would have been unusual if he hadn’t been interested in rugby. . As mayor of Prades, 40 miles from Perpignan, for over a decade, and as a departmental and regional councillor, he is well aware that rugby of both codes belongs to the area.
As he said, “It’s not just a matter of my own personal taste, but of a French passion.”
And nowhere does that passion run deeper, as he will have discovered for himself, than in the Catalan Dragons’ Stade Gilbert Brutus or in Stade Aimé Giral, the packed ground of the USAP of the rugby union, whose interim chairman at one point, of course, Luc Lacoste laundry. .
Castex was clearly well-informed, even citing the not widely known fact that the young French had called Ligue de Rugby à XIII for a world championship in 1934, the year the game was introduced to France.
Equally surprising was his mention of the fact that Rugby League had “survived the ill-fated Vichy regime”. Indeed, it is rare for a high-ranking French politician to speak publicly about the unjust ban. The honorable exception was Marie-George Buffet, former leader of the French Communist Party, who commissioned the 2002 report on Vichy’s sports policy.
Fortunately, in the current era, the two rugby codes can co-exist without constantly waging war. The fact that the French Rugby League’s candidacy for the World Cup was supported by a letter from Bernard Laporte, the former France XV head coach and president of the French Rugby Union Federation since 2016, speaks volumes. Much like Luc Lacoste’s code change from union to competition – a far cry from the bitterness surrounding Fouroux’s “defection” in 1994.
The Prime Minister also urged the representatives of the FFRXIII who met in Matignon last Tuesday morning, saying: “When you play at home, you have to win. That is the goal I assign to you.”
But the results are not only important on the playing field. No mistake, this is a huge undertaking for a small federation.
Help is likely to come from the RFL, which helped put together the candidacy file, from central and local government departments, and perhaps from the French Rugby Union, which went down the same path two years earlier.
But a huge amount of work will fall on the shoulders of treizists who work for nothing. Raising the funding of 59 million euros is one thing. Hosting a competition of 128 matches across four disciplines (men’s, women’s, junior and wheelchair) in as many as 40 venues across France, some of which may not have Rugby League infrastructure, is another.
Luc Lacoste has always emphasized the value of ambition. In scale, this will be the French Rugby League’s most ambitious venture in recent times.
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