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Multi-million dollar sponsorship up in air for New Zealand Rugby

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A lucrative sponsorship deal is under threat for New Zealand Rugby (NZR) after the billionaire owner of a French construction company was handed an 18-month suspended jail term by a Paris court.

All Blacks locks Brodie Retallick and Sam Whitelock.

All Blacks locks Brodie Retallick and Sam Whitelock.
Photo: PhotoSport / Brett Phibbs

Reportedly worth tens of millions of dollars to NZR, the six-year deal with the Altrad company was announced in August last year.

The sponsorship sees the Altrad logo appear across the front of the All Blacks, Black Ferns, New Zealand Maori, national sevens teams and under-20s jerseys.

But the deal is now up in the air after owner Mohed Altrad was found guilty in the corruption and bribery case when sentences were handed down on Wednesday (NZ time).

NZR confirmed they are considering their relationship with the company.

“We have been in discussions on the possibility of this outcome for some time,” the national body said in a statement.

“With the verdict against Mr Altrad personally now having been handed down, we will be reconvening with representatives from the company immediately – as well as with our key stakeholders.”

Along with his suspended prison sentence, Altrad has been fined NZ$82,000 in a case that has also brought significant punishment for World Rugby vice-chair Bernard Laporte.

Also the vice-president of the French Rugby Federation, Laporte was handed a two-year suspended prison sentence, a $123,000 fine and banned from holding rugby posts for two years.

According to French news agency AFP, the court ruled Laporte had shown favouritism in choosing France’s shirt sponsor.

In March 2017, Laporte awarded a nearly $3 million shirt sponsor contract to close friend Altrad, who also owns French Top 14 champions Montpellier.

Altrad’s logo still features on France’s shirts, with Laporte negotiating a follow-up deal in 2018.

Both men deny any wrongdoing and Altrad’s lawyer said he would study the decision before deciding on whether to appeal.

Laporte has self-suspended from all positions held within World Rugby governance, with the global body issuing a statement in response to the verdicts in the case.

“World Rugby notes the decision by World Rugby Vice-Chairman Bernard Laporte to self-suspend from all positions held within its governance structures with immediate effect following his conviction by the French court in relation to domestic matters, and pending his appeal.

“While acknowledging Laporte’s self-suspension and right of appeal, given the serious nature of the verdict World Rugby’s Executive Committee has referred the matter to its independent ethics officer for review in accordance with its integrity code.

“World Rugby will not be making further comment until the conclusion of the independent process.”

French Sports Minister Amelie Oudea-Castera said the sentence was an “obstacle for Bernard Laporte to be able, as it stands, to continue his mission in good conditions” as federation president.

Oudea-Castera called for a “new democratic era to allow French rugby to rebound as quickly as possible and sufficiently healthy and solid, with a governance by the federation that will have the full confidence of the clubs”.


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