— Published 11 October 2022

France 2023 loses its boss but licks its wounds

A page has been turned for the 2023 Rugby World Cup in France. With less than a year to go before the event, it does not concern the actual preparation of the global tournament, and even less its very essence, the game. But it is no less decisive for its organisation.

Claude Atcher (pictured above), the director general of the GIP (Groupement d’intérêt public) France 2023 since its creation in May 2018, was dismissed from his post on Monday 10 October, following a vote by the board of directors of the organising committee. His dismissal is effective immediately. The former third row, one of the most influential figures in French rugby and a major player in France’s victory in the campaign to win the 2023 World Cup, is no longer in charge. At 66 years of age, his dismissal looks like the end of the game.

The decision of the board of directors of France 2023 was expected. According to several sources, the vote in favour of Claude Atcher’s dismissal was not in doubt. The three shareholders of the GIP – the French Rugby Federation (FFR), the State and the CNOSF – agreed to show the way out to a character who had become too cumbersome, eleven months before the World Cup.

The Claude Atcher affair began at the end of June. Its starting point was a long investigation by the daily L’Equipe, which revealed a terribly degraded climate within France 2023. Employees’ testimonies describe “management by terror” exercised by Claude Atcher. The investigation also pointed to financial irregularities, with the GIP’s director general suspected of using the organising committee’s credit card and chauffeur-driven car for personal purposes.

Two months later, on 29 August, the Minister for Sport and the Olympic and Paralympic Games, Amélie Oudéa-Castéra, announced that Claude Atcher had been suspended from his job, a decision motivated by the submission of an initial report by the France 2023 GIP ethics committee.

His removal from the organising committee, without remuneration, leaves time for the procedure launched by the minister to continue. A labour inspection mission was carried out at the organising committee. Its report was submitted at the end of September to Jacques Rivoal, the president of the GIP.

On Monday 10 October, AFP announced in the early afternoon that an extraordinary board meeting of France 2023 had been convened for the same day. On the agenda was the dismissal of Claude Atcher, who had been received earlier by Jacques Rivoal for an interview, but also the confirmation of Julien Collette as the new director general, who was acting as head of the organisation, and the appointment of Martine Nemecek as deputy director general.

According to a source close to the case quoted by AFP, Claude Atcher “hung on all summer” to keep his job. However, his fate had seemed sealed for several weeks.

The preparation of the 2023 Rugby World Cup will therefore continue without Claude Atcher, its most recognisable figure, so associated with the event that he sometimes spoke of it as his own thing. But the troubles are not over for the now former director general of the GIP.

Claude Atcher appeared last month before the Paris correctional court, along with the president of the FFR, Bernard Laporte, for “concealment of breach of trust“. He is accused of having received undue sums of money from 2017 onwards, on behalf of his company Score XV, in the context of France’s bid for the 2023 World Cup.

Prosecutors have asked for two years in prison, one of which is suspended, three years’ ban on managing a commercial company, a one-year ban on holding any position in rugby, plus a fine of €50,000. The judgement is expected on 13 December.

At the same time, an investigation by the Inspectorate General of Finances has been launched by the Ministry of Sport. It is looking into possible financial malpractice by Claude Atcher in his role as director general of France 2023. Its report is expected in the coming weeks.