SPORTS

Is Coach Gamel A Football Bully?

Players tell of reign of terror under national football coach Christophe Gamel. The Ba Football Association has lodged a formal com­plaint against national coach Christophe Gamel for allegedly as­saulting youth
26 Jan 2019 11:34
Is Coach Gamel A Football Bully?
Christophe Gamel

Players tell of reign of terror under national football coach Christophe Gamel.

The Ba Football Association has lodged a formal com­plaint against national coach Christophe Gamel for allegedly as­saulting youth players last week at a training camp in Ba.

National youth and women foot­ballers have also accused the coach of bullying, saying they are scared and traumatised because of the al­leged abuse.

Gamel was sent an email seeking his response to a number of allega­tions made against him by the play­ers. He has not responded. Efforts to set up a face-to-face interview with Gamel on Thursday were unsuccess­ful.

The latest alleged incident hap­pened after a drug test last Wednes­day (January 16) at a national U-23 training camp at the Fiji Football Association Sahu Khan Academy.

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From left: National youth footballers Simione Nabenu, Kalaveti Sivoi and Kini Madigi. Photo: Sheldon Chanel

Youth players Amena Bola, Kini Madigi, Kalaveti Sivoi, Sekove Finau and Simione Nabenu allege Gamel called them one-by-one in­side a room at the academy where he punched, slapped and swore at them.

Ba president Rishi Kumar, who lodged a complaint with Fiji FA the next day (January 17), has called for Gamel’s sacking if the allega­tions are found to be true.

The players found it difficult to speak about the alleged incident, recalling a moment of intense an­ger and shame.

“When I came into the room, Gamel told me to sit down and with­out any explanation started slap­ping my head and pulling my hair,” Lautoka’s Finau said.

“I was angry and disappointed. I felt like hitting him back, but if I did that they would have increased my suspension.

“Despite what happened in the drug test, it was wrong for him to hit us.”

Fiji FA has denied all the allega­tions made by the players and offi­cials.

Chief executive officer Moham­med Yusuf, in an email, said the al­legations were “hearsay, unfound­ed and baseless.”

“Please note, Fiji FA has not re­ceived any complaints from any youth players or members of wom­en’s team in respect of any team of­ficials,” Yusuf said.

The players, however, say they did not report the alleged abuse and as­sault because they were intimidat­ed by Gamel and concerned about their football careers.

They say Fiji FA should have known about the alleged inci­dents because it was an open secret and they feel Fiji FA should have acted rather than wait for complaints.

SUNsports spoke to five national youth players and three senior mem­bers of the women’s team.

Players from the wom­en’s team, fearing repris­als and suspension, spoke on the condition of ano­nymity.

Some women footballers from Ba also allege that on Wednesday (January 23), national women’s team manager Tulia Tuidama- Cawa instructed them not to speak to reporters asking about Gamel.

One player said Tuidama- Cawa allegedly threatened them with suspension if they spoke to reporters.

The manager has not respond­ed to messages asking her to comment on the allega­tions.

M e a n ­while, Fiji FA has been criticised by the players and one parent for what they see as the body failing in its duty to protect the players.

One of the players relayed the alleged incident to his mother, who has called for the coach to be sacked.

“He has no right to touch any player, regardless of what they have done,” said Sivoi’s mother, Sit­eri Tinaitamana.

Siteri Tinaitamana is the mother of Kalaveti Sivoi – one of the alleged victims. Photo: Sheldon Chanel

Siteri Tinaitamana is the mother of Kalaveti Sivoi – one of the alleged victims. Photo: Sheldon Chanel

“Stop treating your players like animals Mr Coach and learn some respect. In Fiji, it is the biggest in­sult to touch us on the head and he should know that by now.”

Her 16-year-old daughter Titilia Waqabaca also plays for the women’s team.

Ms Tinaitamana has vowed not to send her children to the national team until the French coach is removed.

Fiji FA president Rajesh Pa­tel has not responded to ques­tions sent to him about the al­legations.

A statement was instead is­sued by Fiji FA solicitor Samuel Ram, who said the allegations would be subject to an internal investigation, before threaten­ing legal action.

Ram said: “All parties will get a fair chance to be heard before any findings are made concerning the allegations.

“In the mean­time, FFA (Fiji FA) reserves its right to commence legal proceed­ings if the association, its staff, employees, officers or members are defamed by any publications.”

Patel was asked to respond to some players and officials alleging he was intimidated by Gamel.

They allege the coach was the dominant figure allegedly allowed to do as he pleased and made most of the decisions. Patel did not re­spond to the email.

According to officials and players, Gamel’s behaviour allegedly start­ed soon after his appointment in 2017. They allege it worsened because there was no action taken.

The five youth players allege senior officials, including Vodafone women’s team head coach Marika Rodu and U23 manager Anushil Kumar, were present in the room during the alleged assault.

Some of the youth boys allege Rodu mocked them while they were allegedly being assaulted.

Rodu was yesterday asked if he witnessed the alleged incident and if he reported it to Fiji FA, or if he indeed mocked the players.

He said: “I don’t talk to strangers who are looking to run fake stories for promotion.”

Rodu requested a face-to-face interview, but later said he was busy at the Women’s Inter-district Championship in Suva when asked for a location and time to meet.

Kumar, who was also asked if he had witnessed the alleged incident and did anything to stop it, referred all questions to Patel and Yusuf.

Fiji FA insists they will look into this particular matter seriously. But officials and players allege the FA has known about the issue for some time and have taken no action.

Ba’s Kumar said: “I have been raising issues about him (Gamel) at the council forums since last year, but nothing has been done.

“I am going to wait for the result of the investigation, but if there is evidence of the alleged assault then he (Gamel) should be sacked.”

Rewa president Nazil Buksh said a thorough investigation needed to be conducted because it was not the first time he had heard such allegations against Gamel.

“It’s a criminal offence to put your hands on somebody, so the allegations must be thoroughly investigated and whoever is responsible should be taken to task,” Buksh said.

“As far as I know, this is not the first time this has happened (alleged assault by Gamel).

“I highlighted a previous one to a Fiji FA official and he said there was an investigation happening, but nothing came up.”

Lautoka coach Kamal Swamy said he is not aware of this particular alleged incident, but felt it was generally wrong for coaches to assault or abuse players under their care.

Swamy’s comments seem to contradict his player Finau’s, who says he told Lautoka officials about the alleged assault, but nothing was done.

The Lautoka coach, who worked with Gamel during last season’s OFC Champions League, defended the Frenchman.

He said: “I was with him in the national team and it never happened then. He used to be strong with his words, but he is very patriotic.”

But players accuse Gamel of being a ‘bully’, saying the coach never becomes threatening or abuses the senior men’s team, only the youth and the women.

Before taking up the Fiji job, Gamel was assistant coach of the Paris Saint Germain Women’s Team for four years.

Betrayal

Women’s team head coach Rodu has faced a lot of criticism for the alleged incident.

Ms Tinaitamana, who has questioned Gamel’s understanding of Fijian culture, says she feels betrayed by Rodu.

“I trusted him (Rodu) to look after my children like they were his own because he is a Fijian, and not just stand there and do nothing when Gamel (allegedly) hit and swore at them,” she said.

Three players from Rewa and one more from Lautoka were also allegedly assaulted, bringing the total to nine.

Ba player Bola, who was one of the first ones to be called in to the room, alleges the other officials in the room laughed at him when he was allegedly being slapped on the head.

“After (allegedly) hitting me, Gamel said ‘right now it’s just me hitting you, imagine what will happen if Rodu takes my place’,” he said.

Betraying the country

Ba’s Nabenu, a former Xavier College student, alleges Gamel accused him of betraying the country for missing a training camp to prepare for his 2018 Fiji Seventh Form Examination.

The camp was for the national team to the OFC U19 Championships. The Ba forward alleges he was hit so hard his head started to hurt after he left the room.

“After he (allegedly) slapped me I looked down, but he (allegedly) pulled me up by the neck and told me to look into his face,” Nabenu said.

“I never want to return to the national team again as long as he (Gamel) is the coach,” Nabenu, 18, said.

Nabenu asked officers at the Ba Police Station to warn Gamel on the same day the alleged incident occurred.

One officer at the station confirmed Nabenu came to report the alleged incident. But the officer said they could not warn the coach because he had left for Lautoka.

Ba’s Madigi, 19, said he felt angry and embarrassed during the alleged incident, but, like Finau, said he did not dare to speak-out.

‘You look like a man’

The French coach was assisting Rodu with the Vodafone Women’s team at last year’s OFC Women’s Nation Cup.

Three women footballers accuse Gamel of regular alleged abuse, including swearing, and threats of physical violence.

The women players say Gamel allegedly asked those with shorter hair to grow it because short hair made them look like men and he only wanted women in the team.

Gamel and Rodu did not to respond to any of the allegations by the time this edition went to press.

 

THE ALLEGATIONS AGAINST GAMEL INCLUDE:

  •  He allegedly grabbed some of those players by the neck, pulled their hair when they started looking down and punched them on the head;
  •  He allegedly told a player that he would be up on the wall if Marika Rodu started hitting him instead of Gamel so they should be thankful;
  •  He allegedly slapped Joeli Ranitu during a match against Solomon Islands at the OFC U-19 championships last year;
  •  The players have called Gamel a bully because they say he never becomes threatening or abuses the senior men’s team, only the youth and the women;

 

THE ALLEGATIONS FROM THE FEMALE PLAYERS INCLUDE:

  •  Several of the female players accuse him of alleged verbal abuse, including swearing, and threats of physical violence;
  •  Allegedly told some female players he would have hit them by now if they were men;
  •  Allegedly called the goalkeeper pathetic during half-time of the semi-final match against PNG in New Caledonia during the OFC Women’s Nations Cup last year;
  •  The players have called Gamel a bully because they say he never becomes threatening or abuses the senior men’s team, only the youth and the women;
  • Allegedly told the keeper she did not deserve the golden glove award she received at the tournament, at Nadi Airport after returning from the OFC women’s Nations cup last December;

 

THE ALLEGATIONS FROM THE FEMALE PLAYERS INCLUDE:

  •  He allegedly stormed into a player’s house at the FSC compound in Ba last year before a scheduled training camp and threatened to slap her in front of her parents if she did not attend camp;
  •  He allegedly told some female players not to cut their hair because they looked like men and lesbians and he only wanted women in his team;
  •  Has allegedly made several players in the women’s team cry on numerous occasions after alleged verbal abuse and many of them are allegedly scared to attend camp because of his alleged aggressive behaviour;
  •  That, to justify the alleged abuse, he allegedly told the girls he is trying to toughen them up mentally;
  •  He allegedly called some girls fat pigs while they were eating. The girls allege he regularly mocks them for their weight and physical appearance;

 

The Questions That Need Answers:

Rajesh Patel:

  • Two district presidents say they have been aware of Gamel’s alleged behaviour since last year and one says he has warned you about it, but you did nothing. What’s your response?
  • How do you respond to allegations that you didn’t stop Gamel or speak out against his alleged behaviour?
  • The players, one parent and two district presidents say you failed in your duty of care to the players and therefore should step down. What’s your reaction?
  • Some players and officials allege that you were intimidated by Gamel and he was the dominant figure allowed to do as he pleased and made most of the decisions. It is alleged you were afraid to question his decisions, warn him or reprimand him. What is your reaction to such allegations?

 

Christophe Gamel:

  • What’s your response to five Under-23 players alleging you slapped, punched and swore at them in an office at the Sahu Khan Academy last Wednesday (Jan 16) after a drug test?
  • How do you respond to allegations you allegedly made insulting remarks about your female players physical appearance and weight?
  • The players, one parent and two district presidents say you failed in your duty of care to the players and therefore should resign or be sacked. What’s your response?

 

Marika Rodu:

  • Did you do anything about this alleged incidents such as report them to FijiFA? Please explain/elaborate your answer.
  • How do you respond to allegations that you didn’t stop Gamel or speak out against his behaviour?
  • The players say you joked and played down the alleged assaults and even mocked them. How do you respond to this?
  • The players, one parent and two district presidents say you and Gamel failed in your duty of care to the players and therefore should be sacked. What’s your reaction?

To be continued tomorrow

Edited by Leone Cabenatabua

Feedback: sheldon.chanel@fijisun.com.fj

 

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