'Today it's our turn' - French rugby clubs raise funds to help coronavirus victims, carers

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Paris (AFP)

French rugby clubs are taking the shirts off their backs as a way of displaying the "solidarity" they cherish in the face of the coronavirus pandemic.

They are not alone in French sports, with footballers and basketballers making donations to help the sick and those who care for them.

Rugby clubs and players are making donations of time and money but have also started a series of raffles to raise funds with shirts worn by players in big matches as a common prize.

La Rochelle hooker Jean-Charles Orioli was one of the first to get involved on 17 March, the day restrictions on movement were announced in France, offering to help people on an island connected to the town by a bridge.

"If you have a family isolated on the Ile de Re and need to run errands or get help," Orioli tweeted. "Let's stay at home but also show solidarity."

Orioli and his team-mates created a raffle to support the La Rochelle hospital. Each donation the public makes earns a chance to win a jersey donated by a player.

Winger Arthur Retiere put up the jersey he wore when in last year's European Challenge final. Another winger Vincent Rattez gave the France jersey he wore when he came on as a substitute in the World Cup quarter-final against Wales.

Other players have chipped in and more than 1,500 entrants have contributed over 30,000 euros.

"Usually they support us at the stadium. Today it's our turn," Orioli told French media.

Bordeaux Begles, the Top 14 leaders, have also launched a fund to support the nursing staff of a Bordeaux hospital, the club announced.

Prizes include signed jerseys from Nans Ducuing, Jefferson Poirot, Semi Radradra, Jean-Baptiste Dubie and Santiago Cordero, as well as training balls and training shirts.

French champions, Toulouse can boast a kitty of 45,000 euros.

"As a good captain, Julien Marchand opened the prize pool," wrote prop Clement Castets promoting the draw in a column in a local newspaper. "It's all voluntary, and there will be at least 10 jerseys. Some will be very interesting! The aim is to be as attractive as possible."

"One of the values of rugby is solidarity. Everyone can participate and help the hospitals," said Castets, a student at the School of Chiropody who has been working at the Toulouse University Hospital during the crisis.

Toulon, Castres, Clermont and Agen as well as second-division Oyonnax, have also launched raffles.

Stade Francais in Paris have launched a scheme to raise money for Paris hospitals, overwhelmed by the COVID-19 pandemic.

To attract donors, the Parisian club put up 10 jerseys signed by the entire team as well as the rugby boots of France centre Jonathan Danty and a jersey worn by current coach Laurent Sempere during the final of the 2015 Top 14 final.

The club has also launched an internal fund to "support the employees and people of the club most affected by the crisis and short-time working measures".

Nearly 2,000 people have died and 33,000 tested positive in France from the coronavirus.