EXCLUSIVE! Bernard Lapasset talks to scrum.com!
April 30, 2008
John Taylor catches up with IRB chairman Bernard Lapasset in Paris for his first major interview in English since taking up his new position in which he outlines his aims and ambitions as the head of world rugby.
Bernard Lapasset is currently putting the final touches to the report on Rugby World Cup 2007, tying up the loose ends before signing-off as President of the French Rugby Federation at the end of May and is already getting to grips with his new role as Chairman of the International Rugby Board - a position he has held since taking over from Dr Syd Millar on January 1st.
John Taylor caught up with him in Paris for his first major interview in English since taking up his new position in which he outlines his aims and ambitions as the head of world rugby for the next four years.
'The first thing Bernard Lapasset wants to let me know is that he is also a member of the French International Olympic Committee. This is not because he wants to show-off but because he thinks it is important for rugby that he continues to have access to the movers and shakers of the Olympic movement.
So what about Rugby and the Olympics?
He had a meeting with Jacques Rogge on the 4th March where he explained how rugby could fit into the Olympic programme and he believes things are moving in the right direction.
The idea is to stage a Sevens Tournament in the main stadium on the first two days of competition - the track and field events do not get underway until later in the week. Sevens has already been introduced into the Commonwealth Games and has proved one of the most popular events in the programme.
'Jacques Rogge attended the 2007 Rugby World Cup and found the spirit of the tournament was very much in accord with the spirit of the Olympic Games,' says Lapasset..
'I explained how the Rugby Sevens competition works very well for the Olympics. There would be a full crowd in the main stadium and a good relationship on the field and off the field because of the way the crowd participate.
'Rogge has seen the Hong Kong Sevens and understands what I am saying. It would be wonderful for the Pacific Island nations to have a chance of winning a gold medal in the Olympics. They have never had that chance in any other sport.
'And, of course it is important for rugby because it would help us to grow the game in the rest of the world.'
Lapasset is acutely aware that many countries still allocate their funding for sports development through their national IOCs - the USA Rugby Football Union, for example, estimates it would get a grant of $30 million a year.- and believes it is essential that rugby taps into that source of revenue.
The figures show that rugby is more popular than ever before and he passionately believes it will grow even more rapidly with a proper growth strategy.
'Rugby is more than a sport,' he claims. 'It is a way of life which is crucial for a 21st century sport.'
He points to the camaraderie, friendship and other core values of rugby which are essential in a modern society and says we all need to be aware that we must always promote them.
'Rugby has the capacity to put in place these elements - to live the game not just to compete,' he says. 'We have the capacity to exist in the world through rugby.' Maybe not quite Jean-Jacques Rousseau but pretty impressive!
On a more mundane level his other priority is to sort out the integrated season with the support of all the stakeholders.
He believes the 8 year agreement between the English clubs and the RFU is a momentous step forward and is looking forward to the meeting on July 1st when the French federation will be trying to put a similar accord in place with their own top clubs.
There are grounds for optimism because the game is booming in France. His home club, Tarbes, regularly get crowds of 15,000 in the second division and 20,000 watched France 'A' v England 'A' at Grenoble in March.
Another legacy of staging the World Cup is that there is a 30% increase in the numbers of children and women playing the game.
He sees Argentina as a big problem that must be addressed and believes their future lies fairly and squarely in the southern hemisphere .
'We need to open more space for rugby in the south,' he says. 'In Europe things are now well organised - we have a second division of the Six Nations, now we need more opportunities for the second division nations there.'
Although he accepts that it is an open market Lapasset believes it is not really healthy to have the top players concentrated in Europe then returning home to play their international matches. Trying to come up with a framework where this can happen is part of the challenge facing the IRB over the next decade.
He has recently been to New Zealand to see how the preparations for Rugby World Cup 2011 are progressing and is confident it will be a huge success.
He has been assured that the capacity at Eden Park will be increased to 60,000 and with new stadiums in Christchurch and probably Dunedin is happy that New Zealand can cope.
Some would find the challenge daunting but Lapasset gives the impression he cannot wait to get to grips with executing his grand plan. 'I'm just excited by it all,' he says.