Ex-French gymnasts testify to abuse, an open investigation

The Minister of Sports and the Olympic and Paralympic Games, Amélie Oudéa-Castéra, decided to intervene on Tuesday, May 16, after the broadcast of half a dozen testimonies of abuse on Sunday in the program Stade 2, on France 3 The Minister announced the opening of an investigation due to facts “particularly serious” and, moreover, banned from exercising the technical director of the France gymnastics center in Marseille, recently sentenced by the courts to a six-month suspended prison sentence for moral harment.

How did the business start?

The starting point of this case is Sunday, May 14. The program Stade 2 broadcasts a report in which six former members of the French gymnastics team (all minors at the material time) declare that they have been the targets of abuse, physical or psychological violence on the part of a senior manager of the French gymnastics team (still in post) and a trainer. In its documentary, France Télévisions did not disclose their identity.

Who are the athletes who testified?

Of the six former athletes, four agreed to testify openly.

Valentine Sabatou (member of the French team from 2009 to 2015), says she was forced to participate in a demonstration despite a broken ankle, which her coach was aware of, shortly before the London Olympics in 2012. The young woman, now 26, was only 16 at the time.

Clara Della Vedova (2009 to 2012), who also confided in Europe 1 Sportsfor her part, denounces repeated psychological violence, which took the form of reflections on her physique and her weight on the part of the same trainer. “You’re a goat, you suck, you’re good for nothing”, is heard saying the one who is only a teenager. So much so that the young woman is “relieved” when, shortly before the London Olympics, she injured her Achilles tendon. “These training methods are counterproductive and can destroy careers and lives”denounces the young woman to Europe 1 Sport, explaining that her testimony seemed to her necessary and to be “a very good thing for future generations”.

Camille Bahl (2014 to 2017), too, denounces the remarks, reflections and pressures made on her physique by a senior manager of the France team, who notably asked her to lose three kilograms in one week. “You’re heavy in your gym, it’s not pretty. » The young woman then had to follow what she describes as “absurd diets”.

Two other athletes, on condition of anonymity, relate similar facts and deplore the behavior of this supervisor.

Finally, the athlete Marine Petit explains that she was slapped by the latter when she had taken part in a party organized by Thomas Bouhail to celebrate her silver medal at the Beijing Olympics in 2008. Marine Petit was only 15 years old .

Who are the defendants?

The coach mentioned by the athletes defended himself in writing to France Télévisions. If he disputes Valentine Sabatou’s version of his injury, he admits having said hurtful words.

He has not been under contract with the French Gymnastics Federation (FFG) since 2013, underlines Agence France-Presse (AFP). ” The results [de l’entraîneur] and his behavior did not give satisfactiondescribed to AFP James Blateau, president of the FFG. It was not necessarily the things expressed there [dans l’enquête de dimanche] but of this kind. That is to say, not the right words, not the right behaviors. »


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According to France Télévisions, the coach was publicly denounced in 2007 for his methods in Switzerland, before he officiated in the France team, then was implicated in 2019 by a Mexican gymnast.

The senior manager of the France team (who has been part of it for fifteen years) at the heart of the testimonies of the gymnasts is still in office. Neither of them is currently the subject of criminal or disciplinary proceedings.

How did the ministry react?

After the broadcast of the report, Amélie Oudéa-Castéra, present on the Stage 2 set, announced the opening of an investigation the next day – Monday May 15. She underlined the courage of the young women, who were then only ” children “. “They do it at a time when they are trying to rebuild themselves and they do it to help ensure that it does not happen again for others”, she added. In a press release from the department, the minister denounced practices that “confuses[ent] the requirement with violence, the discipline with mistreatment”.

On Tuesday, Amélie Oudéa-Castéra received James Blateau and Kévinn Rabaud, the national technical director of the FFG. Fabienne Bourdais, director of sports and head of the unit for the fight against violence in the sporting environment “Signal sports”, also took part in the meeting, states the press release.

The document states that, regarding the target coach of the gymnasts’ accusations, “the departmental service for youth, commitment and sports (SDJES) concerned, under the authority of the department prefect, will be responsible for the investigation which will allow, if necessary, the taking of a measure of ‘prohibition to practice’.

Pending the conclusion of the investigation requested by the ministry, the manager involved will, for her part, “to be received by the sports management and is likely to be suspended as a precautionary measure”says the ministry.

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What was the reaction of the FFG?

James Blateau, who had refused to respond to requests from France Télévisions, said in a statement on Tuesday that he would take “all the measure of the testimonies” and bring his “full support for the victims”reports AFP. “As a result, I have called an exceptional meeting of the executive board of the federation this Monday. [15 mai] in order to discuss the measures to be taken”he added.

In its press release, the Ministry of Sports underlines that the president of the federation is committed to implementing new and complementary measures around four axes to ensure better respect for athletes.

Regarding the history of the slap, “It’s information that is circulating in the middle of the gym”commented James Blateau, with AFP, confirming having heard this story before Sunday. “What was not said in the report are the conditions [de l’événement] »he believes.

“It was not said that this young girl was 15 and a half years old, that it was after a night looking for her everywhere and that she was alcoholic. During the Olympic Games, we do something other than party. That’s a lot of things all the same and that doesn’t excuse a bad gesture. But still. » He prefers to leave the hand to the ministry: “The investigation will tell us if there are any problems, so we will conclude. And, if there is no problem, we will also conclude. »

Are there any precedents?

The FFG was already under pressure. In early May, the technical director of the France gymnastics center in Marseille, Vincent Pateau, was given a six-month suspended prison sentence for moral harment against underage sportswomen he had trained in this high-level structure. Relaxed for the facts of which he was accused by two of the five complainants, Mr. Pateau was also sentenced to a fine of 10,000 euros by the Marseille criminal court.

Following this condemnation, the ministry announced on Tuesday that it had decided to “inability to exercise any management function”, that is, a ban on coaching and advising athletes. Justice, she had not issued a ban on training.

A former coach of the Marseille pole, Pierre Ettel, must also be tried for moral harment on November 7. Moreover, a Ukrainian technician from the French men’s team, Vitaly Marinitch, was dismissed in January. “He behaved in a way that did not suit us at all, alcoholism and so on”describes James Blateau. “During an internship, he would have said things that you don’t say to young girls”he adds. “We must differentiate the requirement of violence, to use the words of the minister”sums up the president of the FFG.

Clemence Apetogbor(with AFP)

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