World Rugby has led tributes to Bernard Lapasset, the international federation’s former Chairman who led rugby back to the Olympic Games, who has passed away aged 75.
Lapasset will be remembered as one of sport’s finest administrators, a visionary who passionately believed in rugby’s power to unite, and who presided over the sport’s transformation and modernisation on and off the field.
During his two terms between 2008-16, rugby grew exponentially, establishing itself as a major global sport with record participation, audience and commercial growth, record-breaking Rugby World Cups, rugby sevens’ Olympic Games inclusion, a new brand and identity and the first major steps in the organisation’s governance reform, widening representation.
After playing a critical role in France winning the hosting rights to Rugby World Cup 2007, a tournament that broke all audience, attendance and commercial records, Lapasset was elected Chairman of World Rugby, then known as the International Rugby Board.
He immediately set his sights on rugby’s return to the Olympic Games, a move he believed would be transformational for the sport. It was emphatically secured at the IOC Session in Copenhagen in 2009 and rugby sevens has never looked back.
Lapasset did not seek re-election in 2016 in order to concentrate on Paris’ successful 2024 Olympic Games bid as co-chairman, a Games that will see rugby sevens feature prominently. His love of rugby and sport led to several accolades, including being made an Officer of the Legion of Honour.
In the 2006 Queen’s Birthday Honours, he was appointed an honorary Officer of the New Zealand Order of Merit, for services to France–New Zealand relations, while he was awarded Japan’s Grand Cordon of the Order of the Rising Sun in recognition of services to rugby and Japan’s hosting of Rugby World Cup 2019. Lapasset received the Vernon Pugh Award for Distinguished Service at the World Rugby Awards in 2019 and then, in 2022, he was awarded the Olympic Order for his contribution to the movement.
World Rugby Chairman Sir Bill Beaumont led the tributes from the global rugby family: “I know I speak on behalf of colleagues and the global rugby family when I say that Bernard Lapasset will be remembered as a great leader and a true visionary, who presided over huge growth in our sport, returning us to the Olympics and putting rugby on the global map.
“Throughout his tenure, his passion and dedication was always evident, and he was a champion of the sport’s values from the field of play to the boardroom and beyond.
“The sport can be proud of what World Rugby, its unions and the sport has achieved during his chairmanship.
“All our thoughts are with Jacqueline and the Lapasset family at this difficult time.”
1991 – Elected FFR President
1995 – Chairman of IRB for historic Rugby World Cup 1995 in South Africa
2006 – Order of Merit of New Zealand
2007 – Chairman of the Organising Committee of Rugby World Cup 2007
2007 – Elected IRB Chairman following record-breaking Rugby World Cup
2007 – Awarded officier de la Legion d’honneur
2009 – Led IRB’s successful bid for rugby sevens’ Olympic Games inclusion
2009 – Awarding of Rugby World Cup 2015 to England and 2019 to Japan, the first Rugby World Cup in Asia
2009 – First Rugby World Cup Sevens to include a women’s competition
2010 – Visionary IRB strategic plan launched, a blueprint for growing the global rugby family
2010 – Ten-year tours and test schedule launched
2010 – Facilitating Argentina’s inclusion in The Rugby Championship
2010 – Record-breaking women’s Rugby World Cup in England
2011 – Record-breaking Rugby World Cup 2011 in New Zealand and re-elected as IRB Chairman
2011 – Women’s Strategic Plan launched
2013 – Rugby World Cup Sevens 2013 in Moscow
2014 – Record-breaking women’s Rugby World Cup 2014 delivered in France
2014 – IRB rebranded as World Rugby with dynamic new identity
2015 – New World Rugby Sevens Series cycle launched with record commercial values
2015 – Record-breaking RWC 2015 and wide-ranging governance reform launched
2015 – Awarded Commandeur de la Légion d’honneur
2016 – Record participation growth sees 7.73 million participants in rugby worldwide
2019 – Vernon Pugh Award for Distinguished Service