Craftsman of the professionalization of rugby, then of the successful candidacy for the 2024 Olympic Games in Paris, Bernard Lapasset, who died Tuesday evening at the age of 75, maneuvered with skill in national and international sports bodies for 40 years.
In the aftermath of yet another bitter failure of a French Olympic candidacy in July 2011 – that of Annecy for the 2018 Winter Olympics -, it is almost natural that all eyes turn to this affable former second line, boss of the diplomatic unit of the French National Olympic and Sports Committee (CNOSF) to ward off fate.
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Who better than the one who was then president of the International Rugby Federation (IRB which has since become World Rugby), a fine connoisseur of sports bodies and who has already convinced the International Olympic Committee (IOC) to integrate rugby sevens into the program of the Olympic Games from 2016, to bring Olympism back to France?
The imposing Tarbais, from the height of his 1.91 m, combines the experience of high authorities and his knowledge of athletes. He first succeeded in convincing politicians, including the mayor of Paris Anne Hidalgo, to embark on a new campaign after those failed for the 1992, 2008 and 2012 Olympics, but also to keep a low profile to leave athletes at the center. movement.
Bernard Lapasset and Tony Estanguet
“Even President Hollande has agreed to step behind them“, he rejoiced at the end of 2016 in an interview with AFP. In the couple he quickly formed with Tony Estanguet, it was the triple Olympic champion who took center stage.
Sport Professionalization of rugby
Bernard Lapasset is more active behind the scenes, he who has almost never lost an election. His past as a sportsman, on the other hand, is modest: his main feat of arms is a title of French junior rugby champion in 1967, with SU Agen.
It was also in Agen that he met Albert Ferrasse, the president of the club who would reign over the French Rugby Federation for 23 years from 1968. Three years after his arrival at the head of the FFR, Ferrasse le takes under his wing. First responsible for preparing the communication of its president, Lapasset became deputy general secretary of the Federation in 1984, and general secretary in 1991, just before Ferrasse retired.
Lapasset emerges victorious from the struggle for the succession and manages to maintain himself in the first complicated years, marked by several cases questioning the mismanagement of the Federation. World and French rugby is then at the dawn of the great transition towards professionalization.
President of the IRB in 1995 – the post rotated at the time between representatives of the eight historic nations of rugby – he negotiated the end of the reference to amateurism in the statutes to decree rugby “open”, the word ” professionalism” is still taboo.
The change gradually applied in France and a professional league was created in 1998. Rugby entered a new dimension: in 1998, a player in the French championship received on average barely more than the Smic of the time, around 1,100 today’s monthly euros taking inflation into account. Twenty years later, the net salary has risen to around 15,000 euros per month.
Like his mentor, Bernard Lapasset will make his time at the head of the FFR last, with the organization of the 2007 World Cup as the high point. When he left in 2008, it was for the IRB, where he was elected a few months earlier.
Narrowly re-elected four years later, he focuses his policy on the globalization of rugby, opening the body to emerging countries, with the awarding of the 2019 World Cup to Japan and the integration of Argentina into the Tri-Nations, now called Rugby Championship, Southern Hemisphere.
After two terms, he leaves his chair at the International Federation and devotes himself fully to the French candidacy for the Olympic Games. And wins the fight, once again, before becoming honorary president of the organizing committee.
This senior customs official, married and father of three children, was also very attached to his Pyrenean land, where he never ceased to recharge his batteries between mountain walking and involvement in the town of Louit (Hautes-Pyrénées).
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