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Marion Bartoli urged to reconsider quit decision

French tennis star Marion Bartoli's decision to retire from the game just weeks after winning Wimbledon caused shock at home on Thursday and also calls to reconsider.

Marion Bartoli urged to reconsider quit decision
A teary Marion Bartoli announces her shock retirement from tennis shortly after losing to Romania's Simona Halep. Photo: Matthew Stockman/Getty Images North America/AFP

"Very surprised," was the verdict of fellow Wimbledon winner and compatriot Amelie Mauresmo, skipper of the French Fed Cup team, and who in recent months had assumed some coaching duties with Bartoli.

Mauresmo said she had not seen the decision coming but that the pair had been in contact overnight, first by text message, then by telephone.

"I am very surprised by this announcement. I had not seen any particular sign it was in the offing. I just have to take it on board and wish her all the best in her new life," Mauresmo told a news conference organised by the French Tennis Federation after Bartoli dropped her bombshell overnight in Cincinnati.

"Of course there were one or two physical things and it's true that in general these things don't get better as you get older. Clearly it was too much for her," Mauresmo, the 2006 Wimbledon and Australian Open champion, said in allusion to Bartoli's confession that the game had been taking too much out of her in recent months as she finally captured her first Grand Slam singles crown at the 47th attempt.

Others from the tennis world also expressed regret at Bartoli's decision, including French former Davis and Fed Cup skipper Guy Forget and Croatian former men's Wimbledon champion Goran Ivanisevic.

Forget said he worried the decision might have been made in haste following a bad defeat in the second round at Cincinnati to Romania's Simona Halep.

"Marion is a very smart girl, she is so dedicated about the sport that I'm always very cautious about someone's quotes right after a defeat, and that happened right after she lost. I hope she is going to change her mind. You don't want to have regrets looking back," said Forget.

"Being a professional player is such an exceptional job and you don't want to look back in a few months or years later and think "why did I stop?'

"Don't rush it, just don't rush it. Take time, go to the beach for a few days, go running in the park, just get your head together, spend some time with your friends… don't take such a radical decision only a few weeks after winning the biggest tournament in the world," Forget said from the ATP Champions Tour at Knokke, Belgium.

Ivanisevic, Wimbledon champion in 2001 for his only Grand Slam, said from the same event: "What she did at Wimbledon was fantastic, but she will regret this decision when Wimbledon comes (next year).

"There is nothing like playing at Wimbledon as "Wimbledon champion". I couldn't defend, I was injured," reflected the Croatian, who had to cry off a title defence in 2002 before a 2004 swansong.

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SPORT

French rugby in turmoil as FFR boss gets suspended sentence over corruption

Lawyers for FFR President Bernard Laporte said he was going to appeal against the court's verdict

French rugby in turmoil as FFR boss gets suspended sentence over corruption

French rugby was reeling Tuesday after the president of the country’s governing body Bernard Laporte was handed a two-year suspended prison sentence on corruption charges nine months before France hosts the game’s World Cup.

Fédération Française de Rugby (FFR) president Laporte, 58, was convicted after a French court ruled he showed favouritism in awarding a shirt sponsorship contract for the national side to Mohed Altrad, the billionaire owner of Top 14 champions Montpellier. He was also banned from holding any rugby post for two years. Both are suspended pending an appeal, which Laporte’s lawyer said was imminent.

Laporte later stepped down from his role as vice-chairman of the sport’s global governing body, World Rugby, pending a review by the body’s ethics officer.

“World Rugby notes the decision by World Rugby vice-chairman Bernard Laporte to self-suspend from all positions held within its governance structures with immediate effect following his conviction by the French court in relation to domestic matters, and pending his appeal,” World Rugby said.

“While acknowledging Laporte’s self-suspension and right of appeal, given the serious nature of the verdict World Rugby’s Executive Committee has referred the matter to its independent ethics officer for review in accordance with its integrity code,” it added.

Resignation call
Laporte faces problems on the domestic front, too, with Florian Grill, who narrowly lost to him in the 2020 election for federation chief, calling for Laporte and the entire board to stand down.

“It is unheard of in rugby, this is an earthquake,” Grill told AFP. “We have never before seen a president of the federation condemned to two
years in prison, even if it suspended.

“We think the 40 members of the board of directors should draw the obvious conclusions and resign.”

French Sports Minister Amelie Oudea-Castera said the sentence was an “obstacle for Bernard Laporte to be able, as it stands, to continue his mission in good conditions” as federation president, and called for a “new democratic era to allow French rugby to rebound as quickly as possible and sufficiently healthy and solid, with a governance by the federation that will have the full confidence of the clubs”.

The court found that Laporte ensured a series of marketing decisions favourable to Altrad – who was given an 18-month suspended sentence and
€50,000 euro — in exchange for a €180,000 image licensing contract that was never actually carried out.

Altrad’s lawyer said he would study the decision before deciding on whether to appeal.

At the trial’s close in September, prosecutors said they were seeking a three-year prison sentence for Laporte, of which he should serve one behind bars, and the two others on probation.

The friendship and business links between Laporte and Altrad are at the heart of the case.

It goes back to February 2017, when they signed a deal under which Laporte agreed to appear at Altrad group conferences, and sold his image reproduction rights, in return for €180,000.

But while that sum was  paid to Laporte, prosecutors claim that he neveractually provided the services he signed up for.

Laporte did, however, make several public statements backing Altrad and, in March 2017, signed the €1.8 million deal with the businessman making his namesake firm the first-ever sponsor to appear on the French national team’s jerseys.

The Altrad name and logo still features on the shirts thanks to a follow-up deal negotiated by Laporte in 2018 and which prosecutors say bears all the hallmarks of corruption. It is also on the All Blacks’ national squads’ shirts, and New Zealand Rugby is reportedly seeking an urgent meeting with company officials following the court ruling.

Laporte, formerly a highly successful coach who guided France twice to the World Cup semi-finals (2003 and 2007), was also found guilty of favouritism
with regards to Altrad’s Montpellier Herault Rugby (MHR) club.

He was convicted for intervening with French rugby’s federal disciplinary commission to reduce a fine against the club from €70,000 to €20,000 after several telephone calls from Laporte.

While prosecutors saw this and several more incidents as proof of illicit favouritism, Laporte himself had claimed there was no “cause-effect relationship”.

On the last day of the trial in October, Laporte’s lawyer Fanny Colin accused the prosecution of “confirmation bias” by “taking into account only elements backing their original assumptions”.

The verdict comes only nine months before the Rugby World Cup kicks off in France on September 8, 2023, with matches played in nine stadiums across the country.

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