Maintenance. A year after his election as head of the 30 Top 14 and Pro D2 clubs, the LNR president is preparing a post-pandemic assessment for Le Figaro. And reveals new possibilities for development.
LE FIGARO.- How is French professional rugby doing at the end of two years marked by the pandemic?
René BOUSCATEL.- His financial health was precarious. Some clubs, especially the bigger ones, have been weakened. There are still some tense situations, but thanks to state aid, the DNACG has not identified any catastrophic situations. The revival seems to be off to a good start. Spectators return to the stadiums, even breaking a attendance record during the day devoted to the derbies with over 160,000 supporters in the Top 14 and Pro D2. The TV audience is also increasing. We are on track. As evidenced by our signing of five new partners since March 2021.
Could this period have consequences for the height of the salary ceiling?
No. It will be revised a little further down the line, but as expected (10.7 million euros in the Top 14 next season† The decisions to lower the Salary Cap were made early last season, after the first incarceration, and this course has been maintained. It has proven itself for the fairness and attractiveness of our championships. There are now eight to ten clubs that can call themselves champions of France.
Do you sometimes doubt his respect?
Some clubs may be tempted. But we carry out independent and in-depth audits, thorough investigations. We have already corrected some errors. When we create rules, there may be attempts to circumvent them, but they are very limited.
“Personally, I’m not in favor of commercializing players.”
Some presidents are pushing for transfer reforms. Can they become a new source of funding?
We have been debating the transfer fee with the thirty club presidents for some time. There are two schools. Those who campaign for free transfers for free fees so that it becomes a way to finance clubs like in football. Personally, I am not in favor of this commercialization of players. At the other extreme, there are those who want to ban them altogether. That is unrealistic and probably illegal. We are therefore developing an intermediate position: a regulation of the amount of the transfer fee. The portion corresponding to the remaining salaries would not go into the salary cap, contrary to what would be exceeded, and that is speculation.
Another topic under discussion: the increase in the number of duplicates, these days of Top 14 contested without the internationals advanced by the French team.
There are both negative and positive effects to duplicates. The negative mainly concerns the two or three clubs that have many internationals. They are going through difficult times. They often come out because the last stage, which is played in the form of a cup, makes it possible to rebalance the forces. By the way, I am grateful for the sacrifices the clubs have made for the benefit of the French team. On the positive side, young players can get out of this. Every president should try to forget the special interest of his club, which is indirect, for the collective interest. We must not forget that this increased availability of internationals has a goal that brings everyone together: that the French team is able to win the World Cup.
“Change the format of the Top 14? There is no sacred number for me.
In order to reduce these duplicates, can we imagine resizing the Top 14 of the 2023-2024 season? For example by reducing it to 12 teams or by passing it on to two groups of 8 teams.
There are a fixed number of weekends available per season. You have to fit in the championship, the European Cup and international competitions. We also have an advanced project to host a Club World Cup every four years. All this calls for reflection on the formats of the competitions. There is no sacred number for me. But the establishment of the single hen contributes to the sporting and economic success of our championship. The Top 14 format has proven itself. It is therefore necessary to be very careful before considering changing what works well. When the sporting achievements of the clubs are there, the whole of French rugby is a winner. See the Grand Slam won by the Blues. The clubs are the present and the future of France’s XV.
What are the NRL’s most important projects for the coming years?
With the World Cup, it’s time to be ambitious for French rugby, to conquer a new audience. That is why I set up the Committee on Economic Development and Innovation to respond to changes in society and our public. We are also going to confirm our ambitions for Rugby 7s, with the development of In extenso Supersevens (the championship at 7 o’clock, editor’s note† Then, in addition to sports training, I would like rugby to be a school of coexistence education, which values our commitments to social issues such as the environment, diversity and solidarity. Rugby should help push the boundaries and be inspiring. I want to expand his influence to strengthen his place in French sport and promote his values in society.
How to overcome the difficulties encountered by the emerging clubs of Pro D2 to maintain their presence in the Top 14?
The Pro D2 is an increasingly attractive and challenging competition. The gap is narrowing, although progress remains to be made. Maybe by helping the emerging clubs a little more. The 2and division cannot draw with 1time but solidarity must be exercised. Therefore, in the redistribution of income from the League, 60% goes to the Top 14 clubs and 40% to that of the Pro D2.
Some are campaigning for instant access to the regular season’s first, and no longer a pass through random checkers…
It is a discussion that will continue. While I think this final stage is one of the attractions of the Pro D2…
“Rugby should not be mistaken for football. The financial resources will never be the same.”
Can the LNR improve the geographical distribution of professional clubs, help them establish themselves in the north, in Brittany, in the Grand Est?
These tools are very theoretical. First, they must be too big. Then don’t graft artificially. It has to get off the ground, be rooted… Rugby is a cultural sport for me. There is a tradition in the southwest of tower against spire. We can deliberately and above all not artificially stimulate geographical development, because that would not work. Rugby should not be mistaken for football. Financial resources will never be the same again.
As for the Top 14, is it possible that the final will no longer be played systematically in the Stade de France, but alternately with a stadium in the provinces?
We have a contractual commitment to play the final there until 2025. However, the question arises for 2024, the year of the Olympics. The Stade de France will not be available, the final will therefore be rescheduled. After 2025? Why not…
“We are going to try to give a new impetus to the European cups, to establish a new working method. †
What relationship does the LNR have with World Rugby, the International Federation?
As soon as I was elected I wanted a new dynamic, I worked on establishing a more fluid relationship with the FFR, World Rugby and France 2023, in the interest of all French rugby. It first calmed down with the French Federation. Just like in a large family, there can be outbursts from time to time, but tensions had to end on both sides. It’s about being positive and constructive so that everyone benefits. When French rugby has a good World Cup, everyone benefits, including professional clubs… With World Rugby† there are now regular and very positive exchanges. This is the guiding principle for my board: being more open, more participatory and more transparent. When I was a lawyer, I always said ‘if you don’t want a deal to be made, you do it over the phone; if you want it to happen, meet you.” When we talk to each other, we realize that there are many bad interpretations, misunderstandings. So everything has become much smoother. Then we must not dream, but remain vigilant. But also without being paranoid.
And with the EPCR, which manages the European Cups. We remember, at the beginning of the year, your very critical outing to him about covid case management…
I was very upset. And I still am. There have been managerial and organizational problems at EPCR. In a year I’ve never been invited to the headquarters in Switzerland, it’s unbelievable, isn’t it? But I think that will change. We are going to try to give a new impetus to the European cups, to establish a new working method.