Bernard Lapasset

Week 48 (16 - 22 August 2014)

One of the key skills to being a first-class spokesperson in the sports industry is knowing when to speak up for your sport – and when to let the sport speak for itself.

This week International Rugby Board (IRB) President Bernard Lapasset struck an excellent balance between these two approaches as he attended both the Women’s Rugby World Cup Final in Paris and Rugby Sevens’ debut at the Youth Olympic Games in Nanjing, China.

At both events, rugby’s growing reputation was further enhanced. The semi-finals and final of the Women’s Rugby World Cup were sold out, and more than 2.2 million people in France watched on television as their team lost their semi-final match to Canada.For women’s rugby, these numbers show a significantly raised level of interest in the game compared with four years ago.

Several days later in Nanjing, Rugby Sevens received the praise of IOC President Thomas Bach who told Lapasset that it will be a key sport for the Olympic Games.

With two successful set pieces in the space of seven days, there must have been a temptation for Lapasset to bang rugby’s drum with news wires and transnational media on both sides of the globe. But that is not the Lapasset way. Instead, he allowed the growing success of the women’s game to largely speak for itself, whilst he focused on delivering his pitch about how important rugby’s inclusion on the Olympic programme is to the sport.

To communicate this message, Lapasset chose to speak with the Youth Information Service in Nanjing, meaning his interview was originally published on the Games’ website only. Lapasset’s focus in the interview was to highlight the benefits to rugby of being an Olympic sport, and vice versa.

After describing Rugby Sevens’ presence in Nanjing as a “huge moment for rugby”, he stated that “all the NOCs work at sevens now, that is new. We have more and more regional tournaments. Recently I was in Peru and Bolivia. It is fantastic, these are new countries for sevens.” He was also keen to point out Thomas Bach’s praise, saying, “Thomas Bach was very impressed by the quality of the tournament. He said it was very fast and strong, and he said it will be a key sport for the Olympics. That is very good messaging for us.”

Lapasset knows how important it is for rugby to make a good impression at Rio 2016 and he had some strong words for the organisers in Brazil as well, but did concede that he was “much more confident now they know what we want.” Only with his core Olympic messages delivered did Lapasset then bring in the recent Women’s Rugby World Cup: “I was at the Women’s Rugby World Cup in Paris and I thought it was a fantastic achievement for the 15s. The women are playing very well now. “One day rugby will be the same for men and women, sevens and 15s.”

Up until this interview, Lapasset had slightly starved the media during a very high profile week for the sport and, as a result, his interview with the Youth Information Service was instantly picked up by Reuters. Whether he and his team had planned this, or even arranged it, is not known but what it does show is that when a high-profile spokesperson like Lapasset focuses on the quality and timing of his communications, it doesn’t matter via which medium he delivers his words, they will make news.

Photo: Wikimedia Commons