In France, Rugby League is not perhaps the most fashionable code of Rugby. But it does have the proud distinction of having been banned by the Nazis’ French friends, making it a form of the game with special appeal to those who see themselves as a bit of a rebel.
IN 1940, Paris fell to the invading German army. Parts of France which were not actually occupied came under the authority of an extremely unpopular puppet government sympathetic to Nazi Germany, based in Vichy.
The influential men in Vichy were enthusiasts of the English sport of Rugby, because (they said) they admired its noble amateur code. But in southern France another form of the game had been flourishing since the early 1930s: Rugby League, a faster, more swashbuckling Rugby originating in the manufacturing towns of Yorkshire and Lancashire, and this was a game for professionals.
To the delight of the French Rugby Union, the Vichy government banned Rugby League, along with Badminton and other sports considered unfit for their supposedly advanced European society; as late as the 1990s, the sport was still prohibited from marketing itself as ‘rugby’, only ‘jeu-à-treize’, game-for-thirteen. It remains the poor relation of Rugby Union in France, but Catalans Dragons from Perpignan play among the world’s elite in Britain’s Super League.