Treiziste Diary: The areas of France where rugby league can grow

Rugby League has different challenges ahead of it in France depending on the area it is played.

“COMPARISON is not reason!” as the French proverb says. 

Yet, sometimes comparisons are a good way to explain complicated situations.

And if you’re interested in French Rugby League, you already know that making rugby league famous in France again is a complicated aim. 

To illustrate this, let’s compare today’s French Rugby League with an imaginary country.

Its administrative capital would be probably Carcassonne and its area.

Its economic capital is undoubtedly Perpignan, of course, because the city hosts the now famous “Dracs” (Dragons in Catalan).

In the west of the country, you’ll find an industrial suburb; Toulouse and its area, which hosts a resilient and ambitious Toulouse Olympique.

In the east, it’s a fertile area, Provence. Or should I say French rugby league’s reservoir; Benjamin Garcia, Martin Laguerre etc… are coming from that area. This has nothing to do with chance; rugby league schools are working well there. And also, they apply a cunning policy which consists in basing their actions on some kind of multi code culture. No direct confrontation with union. 

In the north, you have Tarn, an area which was endangered by the bankruptcy of its most emblematic club, RCA, in 2008 but which rose from its own ashes with Albi Rugby League as its flagship. 

I’m not a fortune-teller but let’s say that in thirteen years from now, I’m sure there will be still rugby league in these parts of that French rugby league country.

My concerns are more for some other parts of the French Rugby League landscape; even if there’s no immediate danger of seeing the code disappear in those zones, they do need to be at the centre of attention of the Treizistes stakeholders. They are of strategical interest and need to be addressed accordingly. 

Zone 1: North West of France

This is something basic in human organisations. Those among the readers of RLW who run associations, clubs or societies know well that newcomers deserve to be welcomed and valued. With the creation of a club of Saint Pois in Normandy (close to one of the D-Day beaches) and a Wheelchair club at Cherbourg (les Homards), French Rugby League reassured expansionists like myself; rugby league is ready to conquer new territories. Yet, even if these clubs are now fully integrated in the French championships, it has become noticeably quiet. Not because the local stakeholders are not active – they are- but the federal communications seem so few about our new northern friends or for promoting their actions. Whereas in fact, the enthusiasm should be at its highest.

Zone 2: Great Paris

It’s already an achievement for a sport ignored by the media based in Paris to still have a presence in this area. People are motivated there; I have no doubt, with even the creation of a new club in La Garenne-Colombes. But only one Great Parisian club took part in the regular championship; others survive sometimes with bold actions of communications (Corbeil). From my exchanges I had recently with a few local stakeholders, it seems also that there may be some rivalry between the clubs themselves. They are of different profiles, some are based in difficult areas with social concerns, some can rely on a glorious past (Châtillon), some others have to fight at loggerheads to maintain a presence in their city (Nanterre).

On paper, they are close to the zone “number one” mentioned above; the problem is that it wouldn’t be decently possible to make all these people play in the same competitions; Parisians are too strong for the Normands. But on the other way, except Chatillon, Parisian clubs don’t play regular competitions either. Isn’t it possible to do something there, something promotional like 9 tournaments? And why not with “zone 3” teams (see below)? Not to mention the fact that, of course, Paris is well connected to the world, in terms of transportation. Yet isn’t the Paris area underestimated? That would be the first time in French history, believe me! 

Zone 3: West of France

Nantes XIII has been in the French Rugby League since the 1930s. It can count on a network of rugby league schools around. A modern and a popular city, Nantes, some would say it belongs culturally to French Britanny but I won’t venture too far into a debate. Let’s say that Nantes and its area have a Celtic profile, which could be the perfect excuse to develop relationships and exchanges with Irish, Scottish or Welsh rugby league clubs. Just an educated guess.

Their teams play regular games with the north-eastern teams. But you have to know that it requires them to travel (a two-and-a-half hour drive between Nantes and Saint Pois for example). I hope to write more about this interesting area in the columns of RLW, if I manage to get successful contacts with the local stakeholders. 

But there’s something new in this area; Union – which was never a problem in that zone devoted to football, is getting stronger, especially with La Rochelle playing in the Elite union competitions. A boost would be required in that area to go with the growing interest of the westerners for the oval ball. 

Zone 4: Lyon and district

If I wanted to fudge a line from a famous American political consultant, I would say: “It’s Lyon, stupid! ”

We’re talking about the third largest city in France, but some would say economically, it is the second. Lyon, sometimes nicknamed “Capital of the Gauls”, is a mix of all France can offer; industry, culture, gastronomy etc. But the withdrawal of the emblematic historical club of Lyon-Villeurbanne in 2021 was terrible news for the Treiziste community. Yet a new club has emerged from the ashes, Lyon FC, run by Ronel Zenon (former player of Paris SG XIII). Ligue AURA seem also very active on the communication field. Their newsletter is professionally impressive, some even confuse it with the FFR XIII one which led to funny moments when Audois or Catalans fans, on the social networks, wondered why their favourite clubs were not mentioned in it!

Zone 5: (Nouvelle) Aquitaine

A complicated area because, there, union is at its highest. And also, an historic place of memorable fights between union and league for pitches (in Agen for instance) or for the attention of the media (‘Sud ouest’, the newspaper, is not said to be Treiziste friendly).

And some Quinzistes keep holding a grudge against this ‘Jeu à XIII’ (this is how they continue to call our sport) that interfered with their vision of the French society but overall their shamateurism 

Fortunately, new generations are coming, less reluctant to admit that yes, sometimes rugby league is a great looking game and pleasant to watch. A good strategy would be to attract those open minded Quinzistes fans to league without alienating them which is a difficult equilibrium. On the social networks, Aquitaine RL stakeholders are not afraid to openly criticise union and their competitions. Is that the good way? What is sure is that there are very active as shown by the recent organisation of the women’s game France v Greece at Marmande (victory for France 58-0 with an attendance of 2,000), introduced by regular communications on the social networks.

Zone 6: Montpellier and district

Here, my description will be more a question: why is this area so underrated by the French federation, when there has been a tradition of rugby league since the 50s? Montpellier is a modern city, popular in France. In this area, you may still find rugby league schools. There is no longer a men’s team there; but still a women’s team which can count on a very decent stadium (Stade Sabathé). It seems that unless someone with money to invest in a new club comes along, Montpellier may be overlooked by the French federation.

Usually, these six zones are ignored by the mainstream media and the national authorities who don’t associate them with rugby league. Is it because it doesn’t fit their vision of a traditional sport confined to a regional phenomenon? Maybe. But it’s the role of all French treizistes not to allow these local flames of hope to be extinguished.

First published in Rugby League World magazine, Issue 496 (May 2024)

Click here to subscribe to the print edition of Rugby League World

Click here for the digital edition available from to read on your computer, tablet or smartphone