Exodus likely over French pay ban

Rugby Union
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French rugby union chiefs have decided to keep the franc out of the pockets of their players. Bernard Lapasset, who chaired the International Rugby Football Board's amateurism committee which last month decided to let the game go professional, announced that the French rugby federation, the FFR, had rejected a proposal to allow players to be paid for playing.

But Lapasset, the FFR president, acknowledged: "Our decision does not mean the players will not earn money, only that they will not receive a salary." In fact it has long been accepted that, courtesy of local government grants, so-called amateur clubs in France have been able to employ their players.

It was a good thing if you could get it but, unfortunately, like most good things, it is about to come to an end. Toulon's National Front mayor has already said he will slash the club's pounds 1.28m grant from this season. And Prime Minister Alain Juppe has said the financial support will end by 1998.

All this throws the future of the game in France into uncertainty. Lapasset accepted that the decision could well mean an exodus of French players to professional countries, and that prompted the French supremo to admit that regulations governing transfers would be on the IRFB interim meeting agenda in Tokyo at the end of the month.

Veteran international Franck Mesnell called Lapasset's plan "an absurd notion", and said: "Rugby in France has not been amateur for years. If we don't go fully professional like the rest of the world, we will become a third-world power."

Lapasset hinted that three of France's top players, the flanker Laurent Cabannes, the lock Olivier Roumat, and the centre Thierry Lacroix, could be axed for the two Tests against New Zealand in November after they decided to stay on in South Africa.

n Ireland's record try-scorer, Brendan Mullin, who returned to the international game last season after a two-year self-imposed exile, has withdrawn again for this season, at least, because of business commitments and other reasons.