French Rugby needs to apologise for comments made by an official who suggested he would happily see the abolishment of rugby league in the country, says Brian Carney.
The Sky Sports broadcaster and former league star has reacted angrily to the comments made at the weekend by Perpignan regional president Alain Doucet.
Doucet was formerly a front-runner to become president of the French rugby federation in 2016.
And this week, the publication League Express reported that when speaking at a social event about the possibility of a local union club being promoted, Doucet said it was to be welcomed if it helped to ruin rugby league in the area.
The comments come at a time when the sport of rugby league is being carefully nurtured in France and against the backdrop of the game’s eradication in the country during World War II.
Doucet has since rowed back on he said. But speaking to Sky Sports, Carney described the comments as disgraceful and deeply disturbing for the sport of rugby league.
“The game is still in recovery mode in France,” he said. “And for a powerful official, speaking in his capacity as a French rugby union official it’s disgraceful and reckless.
“There’s very much a shared memory among fans of what happened to the sport in France during the war. This wound runs deep, and this is at best careless language.
“But because of that history, and that the comments were made by a powerful official in French rugby union, it’s now incumbent on the French Federation to come out and address them.”
In 1941, the sport was banned in France by the then government because of deemed associations with left-wing politics. This happened at a time when rugby league was enjoying a rapid increase in popularity. At the same time, rugby union was experiencing a decline.
The impact of that ban decimated the sport in the country, and led to assets and land being seized from a then sizeable pool of 225 clubs.
The sport has never fully recovered and is dwarfed today by the game of union in the country – something fans are acutely aware of, says Carney.
In recent years, efforts to regain lost ground have been spearheaded by the Catalans Dragons who have successfully made the leap to Super League.
“If you look at it from the point of view from the Dragons, and the history of what happened before,” Carney said. “You have a powerful official in the region openly expressing a desire to damage the game of rugby league again and French rugby union is a behemoth.
“It’s important that all league fans worldwide know what their French counterparts have done to keep the game alive. This was something that put them in mortal danger. So there’s a history of persecution and then you get comments like these.”