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French Rugby Column 264 || By: Howard Johnson

March 08, 2022 2 min read

So French rugby has reacted to the perceived problem of too many
foreign players and not enough financial control at clubs by looking
towards a salary cap and an insistence on fixed numbers of French
nationals in the playing squads of professional outfits. It seems to me
to be the French way. Attempting to solve problems by putting more
rules and regulations in place is something of a national pastime. The
problem is that the French are also past masters of finding a way to
circumnavigate these problems, so you end up with nothing more than
a vicious circle as more rules and regulations are again put in place to
try to plug any loopholes.

The logic that’s been employed to hurry along these changes is that
too many cheap rugby imports have stunted the development of
homegrown French talent. I’m not so sure that’s the case. If you look
at the example of English football the national team is the strongest
it’s been in a long, long time, while our league has amongst the
highest number of foreign players anywhere in the world. I might be
totally idiotic and naïve here, but there are two points for me. The first
is that cream rises. The very best players will make it, because there
just aren’t enough of them around for real talent to slip through the
cracks. The second point is that sport shouldn’t operate in a bubble
outside of society. In a world where freedom to travel and the ability
to make personal choices about where you live and how you work has
been hailed as fundamentally positive, the idea that different rules
should apply in sport doesn’t sit right with me. Have I missed
something here? How can it be so that a club should be forced into a
recruitment policy that insists on a certain number of homegrown
players when the European Union is supposed to allow absolute
freedom of trade and freedom of movement? Even if it is legal, the
spirit of the idea doesn’t feel good to me.

In addition, the potential for abuse would be massive. The definition
that 50% of players in any one club must have been through a French
Academy system simply means that clubs will go abroad looking for
the best talent at an earlier age, with the intention of ‘naturalising’
them more quickly. Then what happens when everyone finally realises
that there are hundreds of foreign youngsters who haven’t made the
grade and have then been forced out of professional rugby in France?
And what about those players who come to the game late? From
another sport, for example? Will they even be allowed to play rugby
under the new regime?

I’m not suggesting I’ve got the answer to the undoubted problems that
French rugby – and professional rugby in general – faces. Reconciling
the needs of club and country has been a problem in all professional
sport. But I personally think the English agreement that focuses on a
better release structure for the national team to work with the best
players is a more considered approach to what is undoubtedly a very
tricky issue.

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