French leader Lacoste to seize the day

The President of French Rugby League is on a mission to “open up” the sport to the rest of the world and he wants to put an end to the bitterness and divisions of the past.

Speaking exclusively to League Express after Toulouse Olympique’s 51-12 Championship semi-final victory over Batley Bulldogs, FFRXIII chief Luc Lacoste said he wanted to heal historic rifts within the game, link up with the leaders of the sport in the UK, Australia and New Zealand, and work with rugby union and other sports to push Rugby League into a bright new future.

“I have always believed that French Rugby League will be the future of Rugby League in the world,” said Lacoste.

“Maybe I am a little romantic, but what have we seen this week, such beautiful matches with wonderful energy, passion and pride at Stade Gilbert Brutus on Thursday and today seven thousand people for a semi-final here in Toulouse is a wonderful reality.

“Two teams, two league-leaders, two Grand Finalists, it is perhaps the greatest opportunity French Rugby League has ever had and we are determined to seize the day.”

Lacoste took over the Presidency of the FFRXIII last December following a period of turbulence under previous chief Marc Palanques, who ended up in a legal battle with the French national side’s captain Jason Baitieri, which was the latest in a series of disputes between professional clubs and the ruling body that have rumbled for decades.

The new President is determined to heal those wounds, but he is also on a wider mission to bridge historic divides between the rugby codes and incorporate new ideas from other sports and businesses.

Lacoste is a former President of Perpignan’s Top 14 union club USAP and he is tired of old divisions. He said, “I cannot stress this enough, we need to open up and work together. If people in Australia think they are the only people in the world who play Rugby League, then the game will die.

“I think we are the leaders of an opening up for the game and it is so exciting because there is genuinely a renaissance happening here in France.

“I come from a background of rugby union and what we are seeing in Toulouse now is a bridge between the two codes.

“We need to keep building that bridge to encourage more young players to take up the sport..”

Lacoste has drafted in leading French business and sports executives to support his bid to hold a Rugby League World Cup in France in 2025, part of his initiative to “open up” Rugby League.

He said, “I have always tried to learn from and incorporate other sports and external sources. One of my first jobs when I took over as president was to appoint the former Managing Director of the Roland Garros tennis organisation and head of the French Tennis Federation.

“He is working alongside me to bring a Rugby League World Cup to France along with another new colleague, the former chief of La Poste (the French Post Office) who has vast experience in handling massive events, he also managed the French football team’s participation in the Euros.

“Today we saw our game played in a stadium famous for being the home of the best club in French rugby union; this is a brand new era and we need to open up to others in this way.

“French Rugby League is more inclusive than ever, and the message we want to tell the world is that we are so proud of our sport, but we want to share it with everyone. It is the most inclusive game of them all.”

French Prime Minister Jean Castex (who lives close to Perpignan) has been invited to attend Saturday’s Super League Grand Final at Old Trafford.

The Government leader contacted Dragons’ President Bernard Guasch immediately following last Thursday’s semi-final win over Hull KR offering his congratulations and support for Catalans in Manchester.

The Grand Final will be screened live in France by beIN Sports, in Australia and New Zealand by Fox Sports and in Catalonia by Barcelona-based broadcasters Esport 3.

Images of Catalans’ historic night at the Brutus were shown on nationwide TV by French channel Canal Plus and in sports magazine L’Equipe.

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