On 16 December 2016, Yves Ethève won the election of the Reunion Island Football League under the watchful eye of officials from the French Football Federation (FFF). It was an election with suspended voters, threats, dozens of proxies, and the absence of the minutes that normally ratify every election. But none of this mattered to the FFF: everything was fair game to help “their” candidate.
By Romain Molina
A historic crisis is shaking the French Football Federation (FFF). In addition to moral and sexual harassment, denounced in the columns of The New York Times in 2020, Josimar published a complete dossier in September 2022 on the FFF’s silence regarding sexual abuse within its ranks, particularly against minors. An alarming finding that was confirmed by the audit commissioned by the Ministry of Sports, which spoke of a “heavy legacy” of sexual violence between 2004 and 2013, and that the national training centre at Clairefontaine was not suitable for minors at that time.
However, the bulk of the audit is based on the management of the president, Noël Le Graet, accused of moral and sexual harassment, and that of the general director, Florence Hardouin. Yet, the problems of the FFF go beyond these two individuals. “It is a whole system that needs to be re-examined,” pointed out Thierry Braillard, former State Secretary for Sports. A system in which the leagues affiliated with the FFF are plagued by legal and scandalous issues, notably in Reunion.
President since 1983
Reunion Island is a French overseas territory in the Indian Ocean with a recognised football tradition, with players who have worn the French national team’s jersey (Dimitri Payet, Benoît Trémoulinas, Laurent Robert, Florent Sinama-Pongolle, Guillaume Hoarau). Behind Saint-Pierroise, the most successful club with heroic runs in the Coupe de France, several institutions of Reunionese football have declined over the years, such as the third most successful club, US Tamponnaise, which had to rise from its ashes after being declared bankrupt in 2014.
Entangled in numerous scandals (debts, violence) and controversial issues (rigged matches), Reunionese football has lost its appeal, even for its members, whose numbers have decreased by 50 per cent over the past decade and have also been greatly impacted by Covid (25 percent since 2019 according to the technical director, Hosman Gangate).
With just over 20,000 members, compared to more than 30,000 in its heyday, the League has not changed its policies one bit. “There is no change because everything is directed by Mr Ethève,” points out Noël Vidot, a former Reunionese player who had a successful career in mainland France (Le Havre, Nîmes, Laval, Le Mans) and briefly held the position of League president between 2015 and 2016. “Our football is sinking, and nothing is being done to stop it. It’s not for lack of fighting or alerting the authorities…”
Since 1983, the Reunion Island Football League has been led by the same man, Yves Ethève. As the boss of the MauRéfilms cinema chain, he is seen as one of the most influential people on the island. Deposed in 2014 by a court decision following the troubled 2012 elections, Ethève returned in 2016 for tense elections that required the presence of several FFF officials, dubbed the “Avengers.”
Th senator’s phone call
“The FFF takes control.” That is how the local press, starting with the Zinfos974 website, titled the 2016 elections. Surprisingly, it was not the Reunionese Football League that had requested the assistance of the FFF to ensure the smooth running of the elections, but the French federation itself that was behind this historic and unprecedented operation.
Organised around Jean-Pierre Meurillon, President of the Federal Text Revision Commission, the group consisted of Jean Lapeyre, the all-powerful legal director of the FFF, and two others (Joachim Bernard and Thomas Cayol). Many believed that this special mission had only one goal: to allow Yves Ethève to regain his throne.
On site on election day, 16 December 2016, the atmosphere was palpable among the three candidates (Noël Vidot, Yves Dupuy, and Yves Ethève). “When Mr Meurillon gave the floor to the three heads of the list, especially to Mr Ethève, it was a flood of insults and humiliation towards me,” recalls Dupuy. “The other head of the list, Mr Vidot, was not spared either. These unworthy remarks have no place in football, all under the silent gaze of the federal delegation.”
Of the 200 voting clubs, 99 provided proxies (!), an abnormally high number. Even more curious, some club presidents who were supposed to be absent and unable to vote were actually in the room, while about twenty proxies were not legally compliant (missing signature, no official club stamp, unidentifiable proxy, etc.). A farce with a backdrop of arrangements reminiscent of another case dating back to 2015: the motion of censure filed by 103 clubs against Noël Vidot, then president of the League, to remove him from the throne.
Among the documents obtained by Josimar during this investigation, a declaration by a leader who signed this motion illustrates perfectly this football-political and petty-combines alliance. The man in question states that he “received a phone call from Senator Mayor Michel Fontaine who informed me that his driver, a certain CC, is to give me a motion of no confidence against the LRF (Ligue Réunionnaise de Football) by signature in exchange for the release of a grant to finish the season.” Contacted, Michel Fontaine has not yet responded to our requests.
In addition to the proxies, other irregularities were noted during the elections. The president of JS Saint-Pierroise, Luçay Arayapin, provisionally suspended from all functions on 8 December 2016, was able to vote without any problem. Despite protests, the FFF Avengers said nothing and let this strange vote carry their favorite, Yves Ethève, back to the presidency with nearly 60 percent of the vote.
Curiously, no official minutes validate this election – another irregularity – and the new federal board appointed Johnny Payet as the new vice-president on 16 January 2017. The problem was that he was suspended by the LRF from all functions from 8 December 2016.
Worse still, Payet was on Ethève’s electoral list despite his suspension, which should have confirmed the invalidity and ineligibility of the list. By a clever sleight of hand, the FFF considered that Payet’s suspension was “subsequent” to his “candidacy,” and that his eligibility would therefore not be called into question but “would only prevent him, if elected, from sitting on the Steering Committee during the duration of his suspension.”
Lifted on 16 February 2017, his suspension was still in effect at the time of his appointment as vice president. And let’s remember that this election was supervised and coached by the FFF’s legal director himself, Jean Lapeyre.
Harassment, sexual assault…
For most of the Reunionese football players, the FFF’s leniency and indulgence towards the Ethève clan is not surprising. Regardless of the scandals, the federation has never touched the “monarch,” one of his nicknames, who continues to lead the LRF after almost 40 years of reign. A record time despite repeated controversies and scandals.
In addition to insults and humiliations towards various members of Reunionese football, Ethève was sued for sexual harassment by an employee of his cinema chain. Although the case was closed without further action, it was reopened by the dean of judges. Reports have also been sent to the French Ministry of Sport, particularly for harassment incidents in 2020.
Since the opening of the audit commissioned by the French Ministry of Sport on the management of the FFF, around ten people have contacted the audit mission to discuss the Reunionese case. In an email obtained by Josimar, the audit mission’s response is unequivocal: “Your writings are edifying and sufficient to feed our observations.” This could suggest further action for a league where the number two, technical director Hosman Gangate, was placed in pre-trial detention in early February for rape and sexual assault (2). Three other complaints for sexual and physical assault were launched in april.
Contacted, the FFF and the LFR didn’t answer our question.
(1): The Tribunal de grande instance of Saint-Denis had cited “non-confidentiality” of the vote and “non-conformity of the management committee” to support its decision.
(2): Gangate proclaims his innocence.