Montpellier owner’s interest in Gloucester prompts authorities' concern

Robert Kitson
The Guardian
<span class="element-image__caption">Montpellier’s president Mohed Altrad is keen to purchase a stake in Gloucester.</span> <span class="element-image__credit">Photograph: Pascal Guyot/AFP/Getty Images</span>
Montpellier’s president Mohed Altrad is keen to purchase a stake in Gloucester. Photograph: Pascal Guyot/AFP/Getty Images

The contentious attempt by Montpellier’s owner, Mohed Altrad, to purchase a stake in Gloucester is set to be approved next month following months of talks on both sides of the Channel. Both clubs have been warned, however, they will be banned from European tournaments indefinitely should any integrity issues arise in future.

Altrad, the Syrian-born billionaire once named as world entrepreneur of the year, had been hoping to take a 45% controlling share of Gloucester, despite a Ligue National Rugby rule which only permits a 20% stake in another club. Gloucester are keen on fresh investment, however, and the chairman, Martin St Quinton, who holds 90% of the club’s shares, has been in long-term negotiations to offload a sizeable chunk.

European Professional Club Rugby, the body which governs European club rugby’s tournaments, has also sought assurances there will be no conflict of interest and the chairman, Simon Halliday, has reiterated both clubs will be ejected from cross-border competitions if there are suspicions of unfair collusion.

“I have guaranteed to both Montpellier and Gloucester that if there is any sleight of hand at any level they’re out of the competitions, sine die in my view,” Halliday said. “We’ve said: ‘Go and take the risk, guys, if you want to, but you won’t get away with it.’ We have no intention of compromising these two great clubs.” Unfair c

The Rugby Football Union and Premiership Rugby have both discussed the issue in recent days and Altrad may yet have to settle for a reduced stake. “The deliberations between the RFU and PRL should become pretty clear over the next week,” Halliday said. “When we hear back from them we’ll make it known what is going to be acceptable and what isn’t. We’re clearly not going to make a recommendation that flies in the face of our major stakeholders.”

Changes to Gloucester’s coaching staff are also imminent, with the South African Johan Ackermann having already revealed he has been offered the role of head coach. Altrad, meanwhile, is understood to be in line to be the club’s main shirt sponsor and his backing could also involve stadium naming rights. “We’ve quizzed him a few times and he wants to further his business interests,” Halliday said. “His business has a £500m turnover in the UK through various holding companies but he is also very keen to back youth sport within the region. He is someone who does support the game.”

Halliday is also adamant European club rugby will retain a central place in the new-look global fixture schedule from 2019.

“There are still some discussions to be had but I’m pretty confident everyone is clear about the priority of the European tournament,” said the former England three-quarter. “They’re not going to turn around and diminish their own competition.” A switch from the current format of three two-weekly blocks of pool games to two blocks of three weeks apiece played in December and January is among the potential outcomes.

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