What’s cooking in Strasbourg? Scrums and tackles in the EU Parliament

By Claire Stam
Schwarz-weiß Portrait von Claire Stam

There has been no shortage of superlatives to describe this package, nor has there been a lack of sarcasm about the name of this package, which many in the European bubble consider more appropriate to describe a fitness program for people in their mid-50s. Despite the unusual name, “Ff55” has been called historic. The President of the European Parliament, Roberta Metsola, used the same word to welcome the entry of the oval ball into the European Parliament.

Indeed, since March of this year, the institution known more for rhetorical arguments than for the art of tackling on the turf has officially had its first rugby team. It will represent the European Union in the Parliamentary Rugby World Cup, which will take place from Aug. 31 to Sept. 7 in the south of France – a region where passion for the oval ball is kindled with mother’s milk. This cup will serve as a prelude to the World Cup for professionals.

17 nationalities in one team

Gabriel Richard-Molard, parliamentary assistant to French MEP Pascal Durand (S&D), who is himself captain of this team, is the driving force behind the project. He explains: “There are three mixed teams, composed mainly and in descending order of social democrats, environmentalists and EPP conservatives”.

As a result of Brexit, the English, Welsh and Scots are absent, which explains the “very strong French dominance”, although Romanians and Bulgarians are also strongly represented, points out Richard-Molard, who was born in Montpellier (southern France). “We have a total of 17 different nationalities, which you can clearly hear on the field”.

Non-parliamentarians may also play along

In addition, the European Parliament’s first rugby team is open to non-elected members of the European Parliament (administrators, assistants and others) and the other European institutions (Commission and Council), he stresses. So every other Monday, about 40 players leave their files, offices and hallways to train on the pitch of the Boisfort Rugby Club in a suburb of Brussels.

Mais voilà, even when parliamentarians play sports, politics doesn’t stay on the sidelines. “The Parliamentary World Cup was created by Nelson Mandela in 1995“, said Éric Andrieu (S&D), co-president of the club at a press conference. He added that one must properly appreciate the importance of this moment. “There will be MPs from New Zealand, Australia, England, Wales, Scotland, Ireland, Italy and France, and there will be the European Union team. It’s important that we be at this event at this time of geopolitical turmoil“.

Proceeds go to humanitarian organizations

Germany was also a great rugby nation until the 1930s, when the sport was neglected because it came from Anglo-Saxon countries, Richard-Molard explains. “The last match between France and Germany was in 1935 and Germany won”, he recalls.

And it is no surprise that we also find the famous “Ff55” in the parliamentary rugby team: The European team does not draw anything from the European budget. It lives on the contributions of its members and two partners that comply with transparency rules. “So, according to our rules of procedure, no cigarette manufacturer and no airline may support the club“, explains Éric Andrieu. The money from ticket sales collected at the games will be donated to humanitarian organizations.

The next match is scheduled for Saturday, June 10. The Ode to Joy will resound when games against the teams from England and Japan will take place. We wish the whole team the best of luck and hope that the World Cup trophy will soon find its new home in Rue Wiertz.


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