Marlene Harnois, the French taekwondo player who won a bronze medal at the 2012 Olympics, has quit the national team and claimed that she was a victim of bullying – a charge her coach firmly denies.
The 26-year-old, speaking in an interview with AFP, said that her coach of eight years, Myriam Baverel, had regularly insulted and humiliated her, under the authority of the national technical director Philippe Bouedo.
“There were insults, threats, moral harassment, violent verbal abuses, sometimes slaps,” said Harnois. “I always accepted it because I was always forced to work with Myriam in order to be part of the France team and realise my dream of going to the Games.
“I just want to tell the truth and let you know why I’m no longer on the team.
“For me, today it’s gone, and I will never return to the France team – the trust is broken.”
Harnois, Canadian-born, added that the two had effectively forced her into a fake marriage for the purpose of representing the team.
‘“If you want to stay in France, you get married or you get out”, this is what they told me,’ she said. She married Laurent Norbal in 2006, obtained French nationality in 2008 and divorced in 2009.
Norbal backed up the claims to AFP, saying the pair were separated by the time of the marriage. “It was a fake marriage,” he said. “I did it as a service to her because if not she was going back to Canada.”
Harnois added that she did not want to pursue a complaint against the federation, but has written to the Sports Minister, who has summoned Bouedo and his deputy.
On their part, they strenuously deny the accusations.
“This is an athlete who has cracked up after the Games. She is clueless,” Bouedo said, suggesting that there were possible financial reasons for Harnois’ claims.
Baverel said he did not remember specifics: “It is difficult to contextualise situations. I’m hard on her because I have someone hard in front of me.
“It’s absolutely not me who advised her to marry. A fake marriage is very serious. French nationality was at the heart of her concerns. Marlene is quite resourceful. She told me about a possible marriage. It was with her boyfriend of the time.”
A fellow team-mate, Maeva Coutant, who also recently left the team, said she had witnessed the incidents between Baverel and Harnois.
“It is abhorrent what she had to endure,” Coutant said. “It was shocking. That abuse was always there, she didn’t deserve the treatment, but at the same time you didn’t see her react to it.
“I’m out of the system, they are not going to be able to reach me. There were excesses.
“Frankly, I was shocked. I remember Myriam giving her small slaps on the back of the head. Marlene was only ever challenging his decisions.”