NEW YORK, NY – Like a rugby supernova that burst onto the rugby news scene so bright you couldn’t avoid its glare; then in the blink of an eye, it burned itself out and disappeared… That’s how the proposed merger of Stade Francais and Racing 92, came and went. The idea which shocked the rugby world, unfortunately couldn’t sustain itself, nor withstand the backlash from fans and players.
For the uninitiated, this merger would be like watching New York’s two baseball teams – the Yankees and the Mets – merge… but bigger. It would be bigger because Stade won the Top 14 title in 2015 and Racing in 2016, so there is more than enough on-the-field-talent. But the moved was opposed from all quarters. The Player’s Union opposed it, as such a merger would mean less playing jobs; Stade Francais players initiated an open-ended strike last week, denouncing what they called a takeover in disguise. Meanwhile, the French federation and Mayor of Paris also opposed the merger. The Ligue de National Rugby (LNR) which is Top 14 and Pro D2 owners association, was mum on it, apparently believing that the owners can do whatever is in their best interests.
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As justification for the move, Stade Francais president Thomas Savare reminded people that he stated on previous occasions he does not have the cash to keep the 14-times French champions afloat. However, Stade fans showed up to the stadium to protest the move, while Racing 92 supporters bombarded the club’s offices with phone calls, letters and emails demanding the move be halted. This furor was only fueled when the players strike led to the scheduled match-up between the two clubs being postponed last weekend.
Meetings were scheduled for Monday with LNR president, Paul Goze, and French Federation president, Bernard Laporte. Details from those meetings have yet to be made public. What was made public were statement by Savare and Racing President Jacky Lorenzetti.
“I have heard the emotion, the surprise and the incomprehension of the fans, the players and members of our association.”
“I have decided to give this beautiful project up… I have heard and understood the reservations… the social, human, sporting conditions are not met. Perhaps we were right too soon… The future of Stade Français will be written without us and I wish them the best.”
The entire episode actually felt reminiscent of when Bayonne and Biarritz looked into merging two years ago. Both faced relegation but wanted to keep a Top 14 team based in French Basque country. That one fell through, more because of decisions regarding the new structure, and there was no real resistance, compared to this attempt.
Rugby, and especially French rugby, is filled with stories of clubs merging to survive. In the professional era, this has happened very rarely and the only one of recent memory that seemed to be successful was that of the Bordeaux-Begles. One could argue, though, that their success was due more to the sponsors being confused about which Bordeaux team they were funding, so they pushed for the two small clubs to merge over the protest of of fans and select players. It turned out to be the best thing for the clubs.
Stade was hoping to be another success story but now that is unlikely. Although Savare has not stated he will stop looking for suitors so maybe another low-level club will merge or he may sell outright. Either way we will keep you posted, so stay tuned!
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