France to lift ban on share listing by clubs

January 31, 2006

PARIS, Jan 31 (Reuters) - France is ready to allow the country's professional sports clubs to seek a share listing under certain conditions, French Sports minister Jean-Francois Lamour said on Tuesday.

Lamour said after a meeting with sports officials that a French law preventing its professional sports clubs from going public would be amended.

It will be possible for its professional sports clubs, and notably soccer clubs, to list on the stock market providing they can give guarantees that they are pursuing general interest, the minister said in a statement.

To go public, a club will have to meet certain conditions, one being that it must own its stadium. Other measures will be aimed at protecting small shareholders.

'We have come to the conclusion that our professional clubs suffered from handicaps in competition with clubs from foreign, and especially European countries,' Lamour said.

The European Commission has asked France to lift the ban that prevented its professional sports clubs benefiting from public savings, saying it violated European treaties.

France had been given until Feb. 14 to take action and could have faced sanctions from the European Court of Justice had it not agreed to lift the ban.

Many soccer clubs from the other major European leagues have been listed on the stock market for years.

The French league is regarded as one of the least attractive in Europe and clubs struggle to stop their best players from switching to richer foreign clubs offering better salaries.

Four-time French soccer champions Olympique Lyon have said that they would be interested in a share listing.

Lyon president Jean-Michel Aulas, who is also chairman of a software company and has used his business skills to turn Lyon from a sleepy provincial club into a top team, said going public could allow it to raise up to 40 million euros ($48.51 million).

Lyon, marching toward a record fifth successive Ligue 1 title, would like to use that money to build a new stadium.