THE CONTROVERSIAL MERGER between French clubs Racing 92 and Stade Francais that sparked outrage from top international players, fans and officials has been scrapped.
Racing 92 president Jacky Lorenzetti and Stade Francais counterpart Thomas Savare announced the plan for the merger of the two Top 14 Paris region rivals on Monday, triggering anger from the city administration, rugby officials and their own players who said they had not been consulted.
Racing 92 and Stade Francais, winners of the last two Top 14 titles, are two of the most formidable clubs in the French championship and the merger from next season came as a lightning bolt for European rugby.
Elite stars feared for their careers following the announcement of the bombshell plan that entailed a loss of half the playing staff of the combined clubs.
Opposition was so strong and came from so many quarters that Lorenzetti said he and Savare had been forced to rethink the deal.
“I renounce the plan for a rapprochement with Stade Francais, in agreement with Thomas Savare the merger will not take place,” said Lorenzetti in a statement.
“I heard and understood the strong reservations expressed in response to this project.
Stade Francais fans launched protests while players called a strike, refusing to train or play against Castres on Saturday, resulting in the match being postponed while Racing’s Saturday game against Montpellier was also called off.
The French Rugby Federation was openly hostile to the merger, saying in a statement it was “shocked to learn via the media” that France would lose one of its most historic rugby clubs.
Lorenzetti admitted that he had failed to do the groundwork in explaining his plan.
“I did not appreciate to what extent it was a top priority to explain and share my vision and to present the details of the plan even among the Racing 92 staff,” he said.
Savare said it would make “no sense” to go ahead with the merger given the strength of the opposition to it.
But he was unrepentant about the project itself, saying the merger of the two clubs was the correct path to take and one “fiercely shared” by him and Lorenzetti.
Racing and Stade Francais were among the first clubs created when rugby union was introduced to France in the 19th century. Racing won the first championship final against Stade in 1892. Stade got their revenge the following year
Racing were languishing in France’s second division when Lorenzetti bought them in 2006. Savare took over Stade Francais in 2011 when they were threatened with bankruptcy and relegation.
Both clubs have spent hundreds of millions of euros on redeveloping and acquiring new players since 2010.
Stade Francais’s Jean Bouin stadium, owned by the city of Paris, was redeveloped in 2013 and reopened with capacity increased from 13,000 to 20,000.
Racing are building a new 220 million-euro 32,000-seat stadium in the La Defense business district. It should have opened in January but this has been put back to the end of the year.
– © AFP, 2017
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