It all seemed so civilized at the time, the intention being to demonstrate unity in this turbulent moment in tennis history.
But French Federation president Bernard Giudicelli’s “unifying” resignation from his board and committee responsibilities with the International Tennis Federation Oct. 19 may have been just that – a front.
According to Le Monde, here’s what Giudicelli wrote in an email to ITF board members.
“In view of the major issues the International Federation is currently working on, crucial for its future, it is important to maintain a united front and avoid any controversy or disruption,” he wrote. “I now wish to devote myself exclusively to French tennis and its influence beyond the borders of France. “
But … not so fast.
The appeal will be filed as early as Monday, the FFT said.
The major issues the ITF is facing certainly haven’t been resolved. If anything, the future of the “new” Davis Cup is more up in the air than ever.
So you wonder why the litigious change of heart, the sudden lack of concern about putting on a “united front”.
Defaming = vacating
The backstory on this is that in Sept. 2017, Giudicelli was found guilty of defamation for statements made in an “electoral context”.
Basically, he withheld his endorsement of a candidate for the presidency of a French league as he basically accused the man, Gilles Moretton, of being complicit in a ticket-reselling team that rocked the French Federation a few years ago.
At that time, the ITF’s constitution [Article 21 (k) III] stated that any member of its board of directors would be relieved of his duties unilaterally, without requiring a vote, if he violated any of the stipulations below.
But the ITF didn’t want to lose the influential Giudicelli from the ITF board of directors. His Grand Slam-nation quota of 12 “yes” votes for the Davis Cup changes, and his support as chairman of the Davis Cup committee, were crucial.
So all sorts of machinations ensued.
We wrote about it in detail a few weeks ago. Click below.
(Non) Crimes and Misdemeanors
In its press release, the French federation states that defamation is a misdemeanor in France, and not a felony. And that no “custodial sentence” was imposed. And for those reasons, Giudicelli’s defamation conviction in no way violated article III.
(A quick primer on French law below, which should not be interpreted as ANY sort of expertise nor a definitive legal explanation. We will note that the language isn’t “and” in terms of the crime and the sentencing, but “or”).
French criminal law has three categories, typically adjudicated in three different levels of court. Petty offenses carry fines of 3,000 Euros or less. Misdemeanors carry the potential of jail time, but no more than 10 years. Felonies carry more serious potential penalties. As an example, robbery would be a misdemeanor. Armed robbery would be a felony. But unlike the first category, misdemeanors are considered criminal offenses.
When the amendment was passed in August following the “yes” vote on Davis Cup, it stipulated that if a board member was convicted of an offense – but didn’t get any jail time – the member’s eligibility would be be “assessed by an independent expert.”
That was surely in response to a complaint from Tennis Europe, which lawyered up on this and wanted to know why, if the ITF was aware of Giudicelli’s integrity issues in April, it took no action until the late deal in July to keep Giudicelli on the board through the Davis Cup vote.
The “Giudicelli Clause”
“In Mr. Giudicelli’s case, the independent expert found him ineligible to return to the Board for a four-year period from the date of his conviction. As a result, he is not eligible to stand for Board election before 19 September 2021.”
The FFT claims that the retroactive application of an ad-hoc amendment was legally questionable. And that the assessment of the four-year period of ineligibility was beyond the scope of the “allegedly independent” expert’s mandate.
And so, it says, the two decisions must be litigated.
“Therefore, the FFT’s Executive Committee has asked its President, in consideration of the importance of the representation of its interest and of French tennis’s place in the international governance of our sport, to appeal the expert’s decision.”
Giudicelli touted as Haggerty successor
The internal drama here is that Haggerty’s term as ITF president expires with next year’s annual general meeting.
He can, by the constitution, be elected to serve two more four-year terms. But the American has virtually staked his future upon the successful overhaul of the Davis Cup. The courting of the Kosmos group was to bring significant potential financial resources into the federation’s coffers.
At the moment, that deal is sprouting a few leaks. And it is getting a lot of pushback.
So the next election could be fascinating.
Before all this, Giudicelli was considered a frontrunner to beat out Haggerty for the presidency.
But the 60-year-old served his purpose and delivered the French vote for the Davis Cup changes. And now, barring a successful appeal, a significant threat to the presidency has been eliminated.
Giudicelli has not changed his Twitter bio to reflect his change in status. So perhaps he is being optimistic. However he has, in recent months, made it private.
So there’s a lot at stake – for the master politician and operator Giudicelli personally, and for France as an international tennis power. For the first time in memory, it doesn’t have a representative on the ITF’s board of directors.