France's World Cup bid is on shaky ground after President Emmanuel Macron pulled out of their delegation which is due to present to World Rugby in London on September 25th on why they should host the 2023 tournament ahead of Ireland and South Africa.
Macron's decision appears to be him distancing himself after the conflict of interest scandal surrounding Bernard Laporte emerged. Laporte, the former French coach, who is now president of the French Rugby Federation, allegedly used his influence to have a €70,000 fine handed down to Montpellier reduced to €20,000.
What has caused further outrage in France is that it has been revealed that Laporte and Montpellier's owner Mohed Altrad have a direct business relationship.
Last month, it was revealed by the Journal Du Dimanche that Altrad Investment Authority, owned by Altrad, and BL Communication, which Laporte manages, signed a consultancy partnership worth €150,000 in February.
As part of the deal, Altrad 'acquired the image' of the former French coach and secretary of state for sports. They alleged, 'that the terms of reference of the agreement state Laporte is indebted to four interventions or seminars, for a minimum of one day per event. In return, Altrad paid €150,000 to BL Communication, excluding travel, food and accommodation costs.'
Laporte has been accused of having a conflict of interest and abusing his power in order to help his business partner out with a favour.
It's worth noting too that Altrad is also a partner in the French World Cup bid as well as his construction company being France's shirt sponsor.
Montpellier were given the fine and a one-match stadium ban in April for allowing supporters to hold up banners which voiced anger at the proposed merging of Racing 92 and Stade Francais.
The Journal du Dimanche got their hands on a letter written by appeals board member Philippe Peyramaure to Jean-Daniel Simonet, the committee's chairman. In it, he appeared to suggest that Laporte had contacted him and requested that they make their punishment more lenient.
I was advised that the president of the federation had intervened to ask that we modify our decision in a way more favourable to Montpellier.
Since June 30th, seven of the appeals board have resigned.
Voting takes place on November 15th so this is a critical juncture for a campaign to hit a bump in the road. The World Rugby Council, which is made up of 37 voters will decide who hosts the tournament.
World Rugby will publicly recommend one of the three bids before voting takes place so while they do not get a vote themselves, their opinion can hold a lot of sway.