The Top 14 has once again flexed it’s financial muscle this summer.
For a number of years now, officials from the French Rugby Federation have been fighting a losing battle against the Top 14’s governing body, the Ligue Nationale de Rugby.
On one hand exists an organisation determined to keep the French national team competitive, and on the other, one that aims to create the best domestic competition in the game. Although these aims are not incompatible, a long line of lucrative TV deals signed by the LNR and Canal + has made the Top 14 the wealthiest club competition in the game.
Such is the popularity of the Top 14 in France, the value of the broadcasting rights have increased from a deal worth €31.7 million per season at the beginning of the 2013/14 campaign, to a recently negotiated agreement that will see the LNR rake in €97 million per season between 2019 and 2023.
With massive amounts of money not only available through TV revenue, but also via wealthy benefactors such as Mourad Boudjellal and Jacky Lorenzetti, and companies such as a Total and Michelin bankrolling Pau and Clermont respectively, the Top 14 is now hugely competitive.
While the rewards for finishing in the top six are massive, the pitfalls of relegation can see former giants such as Biarritz become bankrupt and left tumbling into irrelevance in the lower leagues very quickly.
As a result, clubs can afford little time developing players, instead they not only raid the southern hemisphere for stars, but average players who block the progress of indigenous talent.
In order to stem the flow of foreign imports into France, four days after the national team’s 62-13 World Cup Quarter Final hammering at the hands of New Zealand, the French Rugby Federation introduced the Joueurs Issus des Filieres de Formation (JIFF) regulations.
The JIFF regulations determined that this season, French clubs must include at least 14 players in their match day squads who have either been registered with the FFR for at least five years before they turn 21, or have spent three seasons in an FFR approved club training centre between the ages of 16 and 21.
However the regulations are being opposed by the likes of Toulon and circumvented by clubs such as Brive, who established an academy in Fiji and bring some of the best Pacific Islanders to France.
As a result, there has been no slow down in the number of overseas players coming to France. Indeed, although at one time Top 14 clubs could only attract ex internationals, it now seems as though nobody is out of reach.
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Alan Drumm, Pundit Arena
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