— Published 4 May 2023

Bernard Lapasset, the disappearance of a giant

The French sports movement has lost one of the most important figures in its recent history. A personality whose career and influence went far beyond the national framework, to touch the whole world. Bernard Lapasset, the former boss of French rugby and then world, co-chairman with Tony Estanguet of the bid committee of Paris to the Summer Games in 2024, died on Tuesday night. He was 75 years old. The announcement of his death was made early Wednesday morning by Tony Estanguet, with whom Bernard Lapasset had formed a winning pair in the race for the Olympic and Paralympic Games. “The founder of Paris 2024 passed away yesterday. Bernard Lapasset was an outstanding sports leader. Epicurean, altruistic and benevolent, I measure the chance I had to grow up alongside him. His death is a huge loss,” tweeted Tony Estanguet. A former national-level rugby player, the Tarbais quickly abandoned his career as a second row, marked by a junior French championship title with Agen in 1967, to become a coach, and then soon a manager. In 1991, he succeeded Albert Ferrasse as president of the French Rugby Federation (FFR), where he initiated the shift to professionalization, laid the foundations for the National Center for French teams in Marcoussis, and then won the first World Cup in France in 2007. The same year, Bernard Lapasset gave his career an international dimension by becoming president of the International Rugby Federation, the IRB, which has now become World Rugby. Re-elected in 2011, he remained in charge until 2016. During his two mandates, he accelerated the globalization of the sport, including awarding the 2019 World Cup to Japan. He also contributed greatly to its return to the Olympic world, leading a long and successful campaign for the integration of rugby 7s into the Summer Games, starting with the 2016 edition in Rio de Janeiro. Very naturally, Bernard Lapasset led the French capital’s Olympic bid from the very beginning, managing to convince the Mayor of Paris, Anne Hidalgo, to embark on the adventure despite the failure of the 2012 Games. Initially alone at the presidency of the bid committee, he quickly understood the importance of moving Tony Estanguet up a notch, to install him at his side and form a formidable leader-athlete team. Once he had won, Bernard Lapasset decided to step back. Already weakened by illness, he had accepted a role as honorary president of the Paris 2024 OCOG, spending most of his time in Louit, a village of 200 inhabitants in the Hautes-Pyrénées, where he had renovated the family home. He leaves a huge void in the French and international Olympic movement.