Pundits slam French 'exploitation' of Lomu's kids

France's 2023 Rugby World Cup bid ambassador Sebastien Chabal with Jonah Lomu's children, Brayley (left) and Dhyreille at a press conference in London on Monday to garner support for the quadrennial event.
France's 2023 Rugby World Cup bid ambassador Sebastien Chabal with Jonah Lomu's children, Brayley (left) and Dhyreille at a press conference in London on Monday to garner support for the quadrennial event.PHOTO: REUTERS

WELLINGTON • New Zealand sporting pundits yesterday accused French rugby officials of exploiting the late All Black great Jonah Lomu's young sons to promote their bid for the 2023 Rugby World Cup.

In a surprise move, the French bid team brought Lomu's two boys to a function in London on Monday featuring presentations from the rival bidders for the tournament.

The French rugby federation flew seven-year-old Dhyreille and Brayley, eight, over from New Zealand with their mother Nadene for the event.

TVNZ described the pair sitting "awkwardly" on former France lock Sebastien Chabal's knee as he explained why they were backing the bid.

"Dhyreille was born in Marseille when (Jonah) came to play (three games for Marseille in 2010)," Chabal said. "As (Dhyreille) told us earlier, quite simply, he is known at school as the 'Frenchie' and Jonah Lomu loved France."

While the links may appear tenuous, Fairfax New Zealand rugby writer Tony Smith conceded Lomu, the sport's first global superstar who died in 2015 after years of battling kidney disease, was revered in France and other parts of the rugby world.

But he questioned the ethics of France for using two children, who lost their father less than two years ago, as the face of their bid.

"It might be different if they were in their mid-teens, but Brayley was six and Dhyreille five when their beloved dad died," he wrote.

Smith said their involvement "runs the risk of being accused of a word common to the English and French languages: exploitation".

He suggested other former All Blacks who are plying their trade in France, such as Dan Carter, would have made better bid ambassadors.

Rugby commentator Andrew McKenna, from Britain's Talksport, described the French presentation as "bizarre". He told Radio Sport: "You've got Chabal and Lomu's kids, everyone's like, 'What the hell's going off here?'

"They explained it and said one of them was born in Marseille when Jonah was playing, but it all felt a little bit odd."

The children's involvement also ruffled feathers among commentators in Ireland, who along with South Africa, is also bidding for the showpiece event.

Irish sports site ball.ie labelled the stunt "emotionally suspect", while Irish Independent columnist Jack O'Toole said some would find it disturbing. "It's just desperately insensitive and depressingly sad," he wrote.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 27, 2017, with the headline 'Pundits slam French 'exploitation' of Lomu's kids'. Print Edition | Subscribe