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By ESPN Staff

French clubs set for stock market listings

PARIS, Sept 20 (Reuters) - The French government is preparing legislation that will allow professional soccer clubs to list on the stock market if they present a strong business plan, Sports Minister Jean-Francois Lamour said on Wednesday.

The move, to be presented to the cabinet on Thursday, follows pressure from the European Commission to lift a ban that prevented French professional sports clubs from selling shares, which it says violates EU treaties.

Lamour said he was initially opposed to allowing clubs to list but was confident the proposed legislation would protect investors from the problems encountered in countries such as Italy, Germany or Britain.

'The big change is the safeguard for shareholders,' he told LCI news television, adding that only two or three French clubs at most were likely to want to list.

He said clubs would only be allowed to list if they could show they were capable of operating as businesses and did not depend entirely on income from playing results.

Soccer clubs in a number of European countries have been listed for years but many have run into severe financial problems after spending heavily on players or failing to qualify for lucrative competitions like the Champions League.

Despite the success of the French national team over the past decade, the national club championship is regarded as one of the least attractive in Europe and has struggled to hold on to star players lured by high profile foreign clubs.

Champions Olympique Lyon, chasing a sixth successive title this season, have said they may be interested in a share listing, which could give the club the means to compete with European giants like Barcelona or AC Milan.

Lamour said clubs hoping to list would have to show a strong balance sheet and business plan and would have to be in a position to afford modern stadium complexes.

'Not just old-style stadiums, but stadiums with modern structures, business seating, conference centres, restaurants and commercial centres that bring in revenues and mean investors aren't entirely exposed to the ups and downs of sport,' he said.