Barely installed in his functions as president of the French Rugby Federation, Florian Grill quickly donned a new costume, that of firefighter. "We are trying to put out the fires," he said on August 19, after belatedly learning of Australia's financial claims to play a warm-up match at the Stade de France. The Australians had just recalled that under an "oral agreement" with the former leadership of the FFR, they expected a large remuneration that had not been budgeted.

The new boss of French rugby described this discovery as "another bad surprise" that would weigh on an already difficult financial situation. "Our deficit is estimated at 20 million euros while we had been told of 9 then 13," said Florian Grill, forced to cohabit since his election, on June 14, within the steering committee of the federation with several members of the former management team.

At its head was Bernard Laporte, forced to resign from his post in January 2023 after being convicted of corruption. He was the president of the FFR when the France won the tenth World Cup in 2017. At the time, French rugby announced a deficit budget of about 7 million euros. And the opponent Florian Grill already denounced at the time a poor financial management of the bodies in place.

A significant financial windfall

If the balance sheets caused significant disputes between the two camps, one point was consensus: French rugby would be able to get back afloat with the financial windfall of the 2023 World Cup. A hoard initially estimated at 200 million euros by the director of the French candidacy, Claude Atcher. "We are potentially at 500 million euros in revenue. So, at least, 200 million euros in profits," he said in 2017 in an interview with Le Figaro, before the award of the World Cup.

Six years later, this figure is no longer relevant but the forecasts remain substantial. In June 2022, Claude Atcher evoked in Les Echos "a profit of 68 million euros", four months before being dismissed from his position for "alarming managerial practices" within the Public Interest Group he headed. He says he is the victim of a conspiracy and denies the accusations made against him by employees of this entity responsible for organizing the World Cup.

His successor, Jacques Rivoal, has further revised this manna downwards. "Our reference is the 2015 World Cup in England, where the contexts are quite similar, even 2007 in France. In both cases, we were around 36 million euros of result. We have consolidated all the elements, all the legal entities: this leads us to present a consolidated result between 45 and 50 million euros," he explained in February to the daily La Dépêche du Midi. Some expenses related to the organization of the competition had not been included in the first estimates, he said.

Full stadiums to see the Blues

This financial windfall, which stems greatly from the sale of the 2.6 million tickets offered for the 48 matches, will allow the FFR to recover the funds advanced to the organizing committee of the World Cup. The rest should finance the development of rugby practice throughout the national territory. Precious resources for President Grill, who will however face a new federal election at the end of 2024, the initial date of the end of Bernard Laporte's mandate.

The FFR can even expect an even brighter future if the Blues win, on October 28, the first World Cup in their history. It should certainly pay a victory bonus to players, which would be nearly 200,000 euros per world champion according to the site Rugbyrama. But the benefits would be much more lucrative in the long run. It has already been able to measure for four years the popular effect of the recovery of the France team, which has won 31 of its 39 matches. The Blues fill both the Stade de France and the provincial enclosures in which they played. Their three preparation matches in Nantes, Saint-Étienne and Saint-Denis were full in August. The memory of a France-Fiji lost in November 2018 in Saint-Denis (14-21) in a half-empty stadium now seems far away.

French rugby is also delighted with the good health of its young players since the under-20s won, in July 2023, a third consecutive title of world champions. And while the women's France team has not won a title this season, it is also attracting a growing audience, as shown by the record attendance (18,604 spectators) set in a match against Wales in Grenoble as part of the last Six Nations Tournament. The France teams shine and the FFR has stars in its eyes.

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