French open money talks

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The Independent Online
French rugby union internationals yesterday opened discussions with Bernard Lapasset, president of the French federation (FFR) about what payments they can receive this season. "We shall merely ask him to allow us to be involved in commercial operations without asking for the federation's approval," prop Laurent Benezech said.

France publicly rejected professionalism despite the International Rugby Board's decision to open up the sport. The players are against formal contracts at either Test or club level, but want to extend the existing "charter of high-level players", which has dictated payments to French internationals in recent seasons. The 50 to 60 players involved want Lapasset to renegotiate that charter, which the FFR president admits "can be considered as a form of contract".

Lapasset, also chairman of the IRB, added that he was in favour of players receiving fixed payments for each selection, plus win bonuses and fees for promotion campaigns organised by the FFR.

He also said the FFR had only Fr140m (pounds 18m) a year to pay clubs, officials and players. About Fr20m would be invested in paying the players, he added. "There is no way we can compete with what Australian players will get," he said, referring to reports of Wallaby contracts worth over pounds 100,000 a year. Lapasset denied a rumour that the payments a French player is allowed to receive annually would be limited to Fr300,000.

The main bone of contention between the FFR and the players is likely to be the intention by some internationals to launch an association to defend their rights. "We want to create an association of players to respond quickly and efficiently to the queries of sponsors," Benezech said.

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