POSTED: December 13th 2008

France wants 'sports Harvard'

French gold medallists from Beijing: cyclist Anne-Caroline Chausson, swimmer Alain Bernard and wrestler Steeve Guenot / lake images
French gold medallists from Beijing: cyclist Anne-Caroline Chausson, swimmer Alain Bernard and wrestler Steeve Guenot / lake images

SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT / Sports Features Communications

PARIS: Sports Minister Bernard Laporte wants to create a "French sporting Harvard" to respond to criticism of the Olympic Games results from Beijing.

Laporte's proposals to restructure domestic sports education followed the disappointment of "only" finishing 10th in the medals table with 40 medals including seven golds.

The one-time manager of the French national rugby team believes there is no reason why France should not recover ground lost to nations such as China (first with 100 medals including 51 gold) and Great Britain (fourth with 47 medals, including 19 gold).

Key features of the Laporte plan include a sharper focus on elite athletes and a revolution in federation management systems. He wants to see France approach the 2012-16 Olympic era as "one of the world's leading sporting nations."

The demand for a review and restructuring proposals came from state President Nicholas Sarkozy after he had welcomed home the French Olympic team. He instructed Laporte to investigate why some sports did not produce the expected results in terms of medals and performances and come up with proposals for rapid improvement.

New national organisation

The priority for Laporte is the replacement as soon as next year of the national sports and physical education institute (INSEP) by a sports university structure, the Campus Olympique et Sportif Francais (COSF).

Central government, according to Laporte, should fund the campus’s creation with around €200m which is more than twice the current annual investment channelled through INSEP. Laporte also wants to present network of regional sports centres replaced by fewer “regional campuses” which would concentrate more on performance excellence and results.

The status of elite athletes should also be redefined. Currently France nominates around 15,000 which is 10 times more than Great Britain. Thus Laporte wants the overall number cut to 5,000 in the sure knowledge that only a mere 300 have any serious prospect of competing at the Olympic Games.

He says: “We need to focus on serious medal prospects rather than fuel the impossible dreams of young people who may be highly talented but have no realistic prospect of ever seeing the Games.”

Sports federations will be “encouraged” to streamline their management structures on pain of losing signficant central government funding.

Laporte’s proposals have not met with unanimous approval. Marie-George Buffet, communist former sports minister, criticised the concept of elitism.

A further report, on professional sport including football, is due to be published later this week.

Keywords · Bernard Laporte · France · Beijing · Olympic Games · President Nicholas Sarkozy

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