Nine months before the nation hosts the World Cup, French rugby boss Bernard Laporte was given a two-year suspended prison sentence and a 75,000 euro (£64,000) punishment for corruption.
The president of the French Rugby Federation resigned as vice-chair of World Rugby a few hours after the ruling.
The issue has been brought up with the global governing body’s ethics officer.
Laporte was also given a two-year ban from holding rugby-related positions, although that restriction has been stayed awaiting an anticipated appeal.
Following his conviction by the French court in connection with personal affairs and while he files an appeal, World Rugby Vice-Chairman Bernard Laporte decided to immediately resign from all roles held under its governance structures, the organization said in a statement on Tuesday night.
“While recognising Laporte’s right to self-suspension and appeal, World Rugby’s Executive Committee has forwarded the case to its independent ethics officer for examination in accordance with its integrity code considering the seriousness of the ruling.
“World Rugby will not comment further until the independent process is over,” the statement reads.
Amelie Oudea-Castera, France’s minister of sports, had previously stated that the conviction constituted “a barrier for Bernard Laporte to be able, as it is, to continue his work in favorable terms” as the head of the federation.
A “new democratic age” was demanded by Oudea-Castera in order for French rugby to “rebound as swiftly and adequately healthy and stable, with a federation’s governance enjoying the full confidence of the clubs.”
The court determined that Laporte had displayed favoritism in deciding on France’s jersey sponsor, according to the French news agency AFP.
A personal friend and the millionaire owner of the Top 14 winners Montpellier, Mohed Altrad, was given a contract for 1.8 million euros (£1.5 million) as a shirt sponsor by Laporte in March 2017.
Altrad received a 50,000 euro (£42,800) fine and an 18-month term with probation. Both men maintain their innocence, and Altrad’s attorney stated he would research the ruling before determining whether to appeal.
For his image reproduction rights, Laporte agreed to a 180,000 euro (£154,000) contract with Altrad group in February 2017. However, according to the prosecution, Laporte did not provide the services for which the money was paid.
France’s uniforms still bear the Altrad emblem, and Laporte, 58, is currently negotiating a follow-up agreement for 2018.
Laporte, who led France to World Cup semifinal appearances in 2003 and 2007, was also found guilty of interfering with disciplinary proceedings at Montpellier, the team of Altrad. He was found guilty of participating in the club’s fine reduction from 70,000 euros (£60,000) to 20,000 euros (£17,000).
As part of a government investigation into the management of the organizing committee, financial prosecutors investigated the offices of the French 2023 Rugby World Cup organizers in November.
Laporte’s future in rugby is in doubt, according to commentary from BBC rugby union correspondent Chris Jones.
Laporte is one of the most powerful guys in rugby and was slated to play a key role at the World Cup in France the following year, but this ruling casts severe question on his ability to continue playing the sport.
Laporte’s position at World Rugby is untenable as the organization referred the subject to their independent ethics officer, who was established earlier this year following a governance review in 2021, despite the fact that Laporte is anticipated to appeal.
Laporte’s charges are unrelated to World Rugby or the Rugby World Cup, but they are still an unwelcome development for the governing body given his prominence in France and internationally.