After six years at the helm of EPCR, the European Cup organizer, Vincent Gillard will step down this fall. For RMC Sport, he has evaluated his activity and looked at several topics in recent months.
Vincent Gillard, why are you leaving EPCR? Is this a carefully considered choice?
It is a choice that was imposed for two reasons. First, the fact that I’ve been in EPCR for six years now and that we’re soon entering a new cycle for the organization. So it seems like a natural moment to make a transition and allow the organization to start over with new governance. Secondly, this can also be explained by more personal reasons and business opportunities. First and foremost in business, as well as sports-related non-executive management positions (note: he will take on, among other things, a new role as an investor and developer for a brand launched in the United States, aiming for its international development in early 2022, as well as jobs (non-executive with the Center for Sports and Human Rights). For all of these reasons, yes, they have been carefully considered.
What conclusions can you draw from my years at the helm of EPCR?
Positive result, it seems to me. Creation and development of a new organization and team in Switzerland, after a very complex transition with ERC in Dublin. The reputation, accessibility and audience of our competitions continues to expand worldwide, with attractive platforms and the perfect mix of paid and free competitions, particularly in France and the UK, our main markets. In addition, the financial component seems satisfactory to me since EPCR was able to generate more income for stakeholders than ERC did in its time with the Heineken Cup. These six years have been, in my opinion, fruitful for the European Cups and for all our shareholders. Above all, our competitions are now shining at the international level.
The last months have been marked above all by the Covid management causing some controversy…
It’s for sure, but I’m generally very satisfied with the way our stakeholders and ourselves have managed the pandemic and its various consequences. Yes, some of the discussions were complicated with our partners. And yes, the crisis will lead to a one-time decline in income. But, nevertheless, given the complexity of the context, we can be satisfied that we were able to finish the previous season, with a particularly deserved and legitimate champion (Exeter), and we were able to do the same this season even though we did have to realign the competition. The season was credible from a sporting point of view with a very impressive champion, Toulouse Stadium, enshrined at the legendary Twickenham Stadium in front of the spectators. Obviously, I hope the third European season is not affected by this pandemic.
Despite everything, many regret the lack of public interest before the final stages of the competition and the highlight of the low financial income of this European Cup. What do you think?
I’ve heard the comments, and there’s always room for improvement. We have been working on several scenarios for a few months that allow us to believe that European Cups will be more exciting for viewers in the future. But some of the frequent comments contradict the facts, particularly with regard to hearings throughout our competitions, which have been on the rise for several years. Same for the financial income generated, as I said earlier. We have plans for the future that allow us to be very optimistic, including the Club World Cup, but also the possibility of merging South African clubs in the near future, or the fact of resigning from our agreements. Framework for action until 2030. All this testifies to the satisfaction of the three federations and leagues that govern us.
You mentioned the integration of South African clubs into the European Cup. If it is not valid before at least 2022-23 in the Champions Cup, it should be in the Challenge Cup from next season according to our information. what about?
Nothing has been confirmed at this point, but we are now in very ongoing discussions with SARU (South African Union) to consider all possible scenarios for their future engagement. There will be no South African clubs in the Champions Cup next season (2021-22), that’s for sure, but the rest is under discussion, in a very positive context. There is a mutual benefit. Everyone thinks this is a good thing, not only from a commercial point of view but also from a sporting point of view, with the potential to bring the four largest provinces to the European Cup. If it is too early to announce anything, the discussions should end on a positive note in a few weeks.
How do you explain the tense relations with some clubs, especially Toulon, knowing that the Court of Appeal was convicted on appeal of defamation in the case of Mourad Boujelal? With his successor, Bernard Lemaitre, there have also been complex relations in recent months …
We can’t hide it, things were complicated with RC Toulon, or at least with its bosses. But these difficult relationships had no repercussions in the sports field, contrary to what I heard. Relations between the EPCR staff and the club in any case have always been very good. Among the leaders, it wasn’t actually the same. Personally, I would have expected more seriousness from RCT, especially in the context of the famous “Bouddjellal affair” or controversies related to last season’s Covid. The first is to take his course in court, but I won’t dwell on this too much: the truth is that we have the greatest respect for RCT, a three-time European champion club, and sooner or later things are going. Back to order, I’m convinced. We have always approached the club in the most beautiful way, despite the differences, and it is clear that we will continue in that direction. We advance.
Finally, where did the Club World Cup score? Your vision wasn’t quite the same as that of Bernard Laporte, the head of World Rugby who said he supports a yearly or biennial competition…
This competition makes perfect sense for the two hemispheres, for the respective clubs, leagues, federations, etc… There was no quarrel with World Rugby. There were already a few words from Bernard Laporte that surprised us, but that’s in the past. In fact, discussions are now very constructive with all stakeholders, including World Rugby, as we move forward in a joint format. We have not yet reached the end of these discussions, but we have agreed on a possible date for the first event, which will be 2024 or 2025. There is no disagreement, neither on principle nor on form. On the contrary, a consensus is now forming around a quadrennial release. Very encouraging developments anyway. But until then… I am especially looking forward to Marseille 2022!