France head coach Fabien Galthié has been named as the “patient zero” in the COVID-19 outbreak within the national squad which resulted in 16 positive cases, the president of the French Rugby Federation Bernard Laporte revealed.
During an interview with French television on Sunday, Laporte confirmed that Galthié had left the team’s strict sanitary bubble to attend a Stade Français junior match in which his son Mathis was playing.
Despite the breach of COVID protocol, Galthié maintains the support of Laporte amid intense pressure from French Sports Minister Roxana Maracineanu, who has demanded an internal inquest into the outbreak.
“For me, he has the right to leave from the moment he is masked. He was outside,” said Laporte.
“He watched the match alongside Thomas Lombard (director general of Stade Francais), who himself is tested every three days and also wore a mask.
“I don’t see where the problem could be but then again I am not a doctor.
“Why wouldn’t I support him? I am not a prosecutor. And it’s not because I really like Fabian. He knows very well that I don’t give gifts to people.”
Sixteen members of the French national squad returned positive COVID-19 results, including star player Antoine Dupont and captain Charles Ollivon, putting their 6 Nations match with Scotland in doubt.
UPDATE: “Everyone will understand that we cannot ask the people we suspect to do the investigation themselves.”
— RugbyPass (@RugbyPass) February 28, 2021
That match is now postponed until a later date, but there will no doubt be calls for France to forfeit the game given Galthié’s more active role in the outbreak.
The French squad had already been under scrutiny from the government, with Maracineanu keen to find answers from the FFR for whom whe granted a travel exception to compete in the 6 Nations following the closing of France’s borders.
In addition to the COVID cases post Dublin trip, there were also claims in the French press that players had been allowed to go out to eat together in the centre of Rome before the opening round of the tournament against Italy.
“I don’t think it was written in the protocol that the players could go out to eat waffles,” Maracineanu, following reports that French players went out in Rome when they played Italy three weeks ago, said on Saturday.
“We asked an investigation from the FFR and from (president) Bernard Laporte, who himself came to see us before the tournament to present us the protocole and tell us that everything was going to go well, that the bubble was going to be strictly respected with controlled entries and exits,” Maracineanu told L’Equipe TV.
“Now that we can see that this is not the case, I am waiting for him to come and explain to us what has happened.”
Maracineanu said that without the internal investigation, the French squad risked being withdrawn from the rest of the 6 Nations.
“If nothing happens, if we don’t look into this chain of contaminations and they don’t explain to us how it could happen, then the authorisation that has been given (to play in the Six Nations) can be withdrawn.”
Criticism of Galthié, Laporte and the FFR has been vociferous from various sides as well, with Florian Grill – an opponent of Laporte in the race to become FFR president – labelled the situation as “negligence at best, if not, incompetence.”
“The governance of French rugby had signed a protocol with the government, which is no small responsibility. We need to get to the truth of this, we need precision and transparency,” said Grill, who went further than Maracineanu in calling for an independent investigation.
— L’ÉQUIPE (@lequipe) March 1, 2021
Former French head coach, Jean-Claude Skrela, added to the conversation, saying that “if there has been a lie, there must be sanctions.”
“The sports minister must diligently lead an inquest [into this]; the only people who should lead this are those outside of the Federation.
“If the organisation around the bubble has not worked, both of them [Simon and Laporte] are responsible. If there have been people who have left the bubble to go for a walk or eat waffles, it’s them who have allowed them to do it.”