Opinion: French rugby union still owes league an apology

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By LYLE BEATON

At WHAT point will World Rugby (formerly known as the International Rugby Board) actually acknowledge the injustice inflicted by one its member nations upon French rugby league? More to that same point, when will it apologise and compensate French rugby league for the egregious acts perpetrated upon it as an independent sport by French rugby union during the abhorred Vichy regime of World War Two?

French rugby union is a body which continues to live in a fantasy land that these acts never occurred, while in the same breath it continues to benefit directly from them to this day.

What is clear from the 2002 French government inquiry into Vichy sport is that rugby union used the cover of war to organise the complete abolition of rugby league as a separate and independent sport. Not only was professional rugby league – which maintained a strong and vibrant club competition across large parts of France – abolished by Vichy’s rugby union officials, but the entire amateur rugby league game was wiped out by governmental decree; something which no other sport in France was subjected to.

French rugby league’s considerable pre-war assets, which consisted of many millions of French francs, were stripped from it and given, via the Sports Council, to rugby union.

French rugby union has still not after 80 years even acknowledged this state of affairs, much less apologised for it and recompensed rugby league for the damage inflicted upon it.

Even after rugby league was allowed to restart after World War II, the still cosy relationship between French rugby union and the French government saw rugby league yoked with the infamous Protocol – another government decree which proclaimed that rugby league could not be played in schools, was limited to only 200 professional players (enough for maybe 10 clubs, compared to the 14 or more which had existed pre-War) and, most outrageous of all, that it could not be called ‘rugby’ at all, but rather was given the pejorative title ‘game of thirteen’ (jeu a treize).

If that doesn’t already seem bad enough, French rugby league was heavily associated with the French resistance of the German occupation during WWII, while French rugby union was much more closely associated with the traitorous Vichy government. Charles de Gaulle’s government’s truly remarkable post war response was to leave the pro-rugby union Vichy sports landscape largely intact, unpunished, while rugby league was inflicted with further near mortal injuries via the Protocol. Absolutely no recognition was afforded to French rugby league for the conduct visited upon it by rugby union during the war.

The modern attitude of World Rugby (Union) to this state of affairs? To ignore the events ever happened and to reward the French rugby union with hosting rights for the Rugby (Union) World Cup in 2023! Moreover, the Olympic movement continues to implicitly welcome such behaviour by permitting rugby union sevens, including the French team, to compete every four years.

It is well past time that the French government and French rugby union owned up to this appalling treatment and remedied the situation. Rugby league is directly owed what amounts to many tens of millions of Euros by one or both bodies.

Talk among yourselves and work out where the debt lies – 50/50 sounds about right – and do something about it. 80 years is long enough.

 

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