The FRF has been blasted from media everywhere over the state of French rugby, where billionaire club owners play with blank checkbooks and zero quota systems, importing as much of the world’s rugby talent as they can. The criticism they receive would be music to the ears of centrally contracted unions, who can stand by their models and seem ‘righteous’.
The FRF is considering introducing regulations in the interest of the ‘national team’ in a crackdown to supposedly ‘improve’ the national pathway. Nearly half of the contracted players in the Top 14 are born outside France.
Despite all the fanfare, the French national team will play off for second place in this year’s Six Nations, after pipping England 22-16 in a brutal affair in Paris. Is this really the product of a broken domestic system?
A team that came third last year behind England and Ireland, this year beat England and came within a whisper of beating Ireland. Are we going to be that surprised if France does well at the World Cup next year, a tournament they historically have always overachieved?
We glance over monopolistic dictatorships in rugby that would outrage in normal society. France’s professional Top 14 competition is the closest thing to a free market in the sport. The players are the most compensated on the planet for their services – something that should be praised.
Centrally contracted unions obviously disprove of the model, as it is a major threat to their own control, often forcing them to pay market value or let go of players. Reports of an NZD$3.4 million per year deal for Beauden Barrett in France will have the NZRU scrambling. Keiran Read, the highest paid player in New Zealand, is thought to be the first player to receive NZD$1 million in earnings.
Without the Top 14, players would not have anywhere near the leverage they do and the rise of player wages would not be so rapid. If regulations are brought into the Top 14, every player in the world will suffer financially.
There is an argument to be made that the open market system in France actually helps the local players that still get contracted. For the one flyhalf that misses out on a contract because of Barrett, every other French 10 in the competition gets better by having to play against the world’s best player. The French players that play with Barrett improve. It’s by nature of having better competition.
The results of the national French side are proving that the concerns are at least not as harmful as they are thought to be.
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