The British did not only invent Rugby. They, with the passing of years, played an essential role in its evolution. Even against their own will. Such is the case with regard to the International Federation of Rugby Amateur, born January 2, 1934 in Paris, fruit of a Franco-British divorce.
Let us recall indeed that excluded from the Tournament, France had as a single partner Germany from 1932 to 1936 then Italy (1937), Romania (1938), a team of Great Britain taking up again in 1940 before British Army then the British Empire take over in 1945. Welsh and Irishmen placed,in 1946, France on the path of the Tournament in which its rehabilitation was carried out in 1947. But, meanwhile, this 2 January 1934 had taken place when, following the example French and German presidents F.I.R.A had been born. A preliminary meeting had been held in Turin, September 4, 1933, and the baptism took place, March 24, 1934, in Hanover. Present: Germany and France, of course, but also: Belgium, Catalonia, Spain, Holland, Italy, Portugal, Romania. Statutes and regulations sealed the operation, the official declaration of birth being recorded in the Official Bulletin of the French Republic of June 10, 1934.
The annual congresses took place in Rome (1935), Berlin (1936), Paris (1937), Bucharest (1938), the war imposing an interruption until 1947. Resumption in Milan, in 1948, with the arrival of Czechoslovakia and the episodes following in Marseille (1949), Barcelona (1950). The 1951 congress, in Paris, instituted the organization of a Europe Cup. In 1956: affiliations of the German Democratic Republic and the Moroccan Royal Federation, followed by the Polish Federation (1957), and Sweden (1958). Status are revised in 1961, amended in 1962, a technical Commission is created in 1963. Yugoslavia is allowed in 1964, year when the Champions Cup is put on the rails for two years with a two parts finale, and the creation of a Nations Cup is projected whose rules are adopted in 1955 and realization is effective in 1966. Bulgaria joins in 1967, Denmark in 1975, then Luxembourg, Switzerland, Tunisia, the U.S.S.R., whose representatives attend work of the Board of directors.
A significant step is crossed in 1978 with, on French proposal, the general mission entrusted to the technical Commission packed to deal with all the sporting sector (respect of the spirit of the play, responsibility for the application of the rules, the training and selection of the referees and teachers, of the discipline of the players, teachers, referees and leaders). Two sub-commissions: administrative (legal sector, organization and control of the competitions) and technique are made up which call on not elected members. Arrival of the Coast of Ivory, allowed in technical sub-commission then administrative. Israel counts, too, a correspondent at the technical Commission. In 1986, affiliation of Andorra then, in 1987, of Paraguay, Chile, Solomon Islands, Barbados, Western Samoa, Republic of China, Hong Kong and acceptance of Argentina in associated membership. In 1988, request their admission: Nigeria, Seychelles, Norway, The U.S.A., Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania. Their affiliation confers on the F.I.R.A. a character mondialist. The arrival of Hungary and Austria (1990) corresponds to the radiation of Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania for non-observance of the criteria. On the other hand, Uruguay and Namibia are accepted as well as Brazil and South Korea in 1991. Troop movement in 1992: Bosnia Herzegovine, North Korea, Croatia, Georgia, Kazakhstan, Latvia, Lithuania, Moldavie, Ouzbekistan, Russia, Slovenia, Ukraine, Venezuela, Zaire enter the FIRA, whereas Western Samoa, Finland and Barbados are struck off. In 1993: arrivals of India and Tahiti, striking off of Madagascar. In 1994: Cameroun, Monaco, Armenia are affiliated and the Western Samoa reinstated. With the passing of years, the operating mode does not cease to improve in all sectors. In 1995 a representative of the F.I.R.A. to the Board (Viorel MORARIU) is elected. In 1996 Argentina's statute of associated member is transformed into full membership and Colombia and Zimbabwe are affiliated.
A new identity
The period 95 - 97 is a crucial turning point in the existence of the F.I.R.A - association of French law, appointed by the International Rugby Board to promote Rugby in the world - which decides to redesign statutes and rules of procedure to put them in agreement with this hybrid character. Which is carried out in three times: Casablanca, Rome (extraordinary G.A.) and Dubrovnik (June 97) where the new rules of procedure are adopted, statutes having to be communicated to the Board before officialization. An essential step is crossed as regards democratization (new voting system). Both Korea (Northern and Southern), Ouzbekistan, Mexico, Nigeria and Seychelles are struck off. At the end of the year 1997 Albert FERASSE officially transmit the presidency to Jean Claude BAQUE. The statutes are adopted. They mark the end of French hegemony (six representatives instead of eleven in the Board of directors, the representation of each federation set to a maximum of six). The new president thus defines the mission which he gives his team: " To develop and manage Rugby in agreement with the Board, in a complementary and noncompeting way ". What is said is done. The two presidents work jointly. The convention concluded in 1994 between the two organizations, renewed in 1995 is refitted. The F.I.R.A. falls under the policy on a worldwide scale of Board and becomes a model of continental association. For that, it must keep only the nations corresponding to the new diagram, the others continuing to be given its formative and technical aid. The phenomenon is concretized in Biarritz (1999). By a change of name initially: initials F.I.R.A. being commuted to patronym FIRA to which is coupled European Association of Rugby (A.E.R.). The statutes are reformed. The sixty " Member States " are reduced to thirty five and the direct apparatus adapted to the new situation. Ireland and Wales also officially become members of the FIRA-A.E.R. during the Biarritz General Assembly.The Parisian A.G. of December 1999 marks the beginning of a new era: identity, statutes and structures reformed. The heading system adapted to the thirth five federations (Estonia is officially integrated) plus Tunisia and Morocco while waiting that they are attached to their geographical area. Board of directors completed, Executive committee and new representative at the Board (Jose-Maria EPALZA), Officer of development (Robert ANTONIN) set up: the FIRA - A.E.R. can, like it has of it the mandate from the Board, promote and rule over the Rugby in the european area !
Since he became President, Jean-Claude Baqué has always worked for total democracy within the organization by including as widely as possible the representatives off all the member nations at every administration level. This is best illustrated by the 79th General Assembly of December 2004, which can be described as exemplary and historic, when the 40 nations taking part unanimously voted for the President and his list. A truly European approval, all regional areas being represented, all established values agreeing on this issue. A fundamental vote at a time when the IRB Council is opening its doors to regional unions. Exemplary in the management of the body : ten vice-presidents, covering all the regional areas and all activities, the President delegating a large part of the responsibilities in order to insure a perfect transition and the nomination of a younger management.Training and development actions
2005 was centred to a enormous effort for development and training. The RDM's Michel Arpaillange & Pierre Villepreux have got for mission to found and train a development officer per country. Portuguese Raul MArtins took the seat of Jose-Maria Epalza at IRB Board. FIRA has now 1 300 000 licences and is an essential actor of World Rugby.
FIRA-AER and IRB
Two majors improvements were held in 2006: the renewal of the IRB/FIRA-AER agreement till 31st December 2008, therefore, this agreement will be renegotiated for a Olympic duration, 4 years following the election in FIRA-AER and the change of the status to fulfil the juridical problem of President' vacancy. It has been decided that executive Committee will elected the new President at the simple majority. A Competition Manager will also be nominated after an other status modification. Others important changes: change name of the European VII Circuit to European, VII Championship, European Club Cup will be played by geographical group and a new Communication Manager will be recruited with the help of IRB.
Among the various achievements of 2007 and 2008 are:
- The approval by the European Association’s administration (in the form of recognition by the IRB) of FIRA’s strategic plan which has been adopted as a type standard and a leading global model
- The steam-lining of by-laws in renewed agreement with the IRB and the modification of internal regulations regarding, most notably, requests for associate membership followed by full membership a year later (Cyprus’s application has been accepted)
- The hiring of a staff member responsible for Communications (Nicolas Hourquet), with the assistance of the IRB.
- San Marino becomes an associate member increasing numbers to a potential 2 million across 6 thousand clubs.
- Development Officer numbers rise to 28.
- Modernisation and development of communication tools: Flash info and press releases now available in two languages; Internet site in full expansion with 358,000 hits in 2007; General Assembly meetings simultaneously translated into 3 languages; English, French and Russian.
- Confirmation of the fundamental democracy which exemplifies the European Association: Establishment of an annual meeting of union Presidents as a curtain raiser to the winter General Assembly, providing double the opportunity for top-level debates covering different themes.
- Creation of a panel of referees at three levels.
- Huge drive in the area of television coverage; unions requested to establish agreements with their national TV channels and to have images transferred to
- Eurosport. This operation will be funded by new partnership deals.
- Retirement of Pierre Villepreux who has been replaced in his role as RDM by Douglas Langley, who is continuing the initiative to expand women’s rugby.
- Resounding recognition of the role of FIRA-AER in the development of world rugby; Promotion of Jean-Claude Baqué to the VI Nations committee and Pierre Camou to the IRB council.
The 2008 AGM and the re-election of Jean-Claude Baqué as President mark a new phase in the history of FIRA-AER.
In keeping with his philosophy, which has influenced his actions since his election as President, Jean-Claude is continuing to pursue the “Europeanisation” of this association which heretofore has been dominated by the French. The Spaniard, José-Maria Epalza succeeds Pierre Camou (who has taken on the role of President of the Fédération Française de Rugby) as General Treasurer, reducing by one the number of French on the executive team. The objective is to ensure that all nations, irrespective of their importance have equal means and opportunity to function and express themselves effectively.
A significant development is the creation of two new Commissions: the Commission for Relations with European Institutions and the Elite Commission (relations with the VI Nations, ERC, etc)
Europe has been broken up into 10 geographic regions under the responsibility of ten vice-Presidents, acting as veritable “disciples” of the President. This will free-up the President to function more as a political leader in contrast to his previous hands-on role. This represents a whole new departure.
FIRA-AER 75th Anniversary
To commemorate the 75th Anniversary of the creation of FIRA-Association Européenne de Rugby, its President Jean-Claude Baqué managed to mix business with pleasure. Business in bringing together in Brussels, the capital of Europe, in November 2009, the executive Committee and the 43 Presidents of the Member nations for a meeting which, in the presence of Bernard Lapasset, the President of the International Rugby Board, laid out the foundations for the organization of Rugby Sevens in preparation for the Olympic Games. Pleasure in opposing the prestigious French Barbarians to a European Selection at the King Baudouin Stadium in front of more than 10,000 spectators for what turned out to be a high level match and a tremendous propaganda for Rugby, especially as it was broadcast in 60 countries.