Scandal hits another Olympic sport in France — handball

Jan 24, 2023, 8:05 PM | Updated: Jan 25, 2023, 10:06 am

PARIS (AP) — The head of France’s professional handball league resigned Wednesday after pleading guilty to child corruption and child pornography charges — the country’s latest sports scandal before it hosts next year’s Paris Olympics.

In a plea deal reached with prosecutors and signed off by a Paris court, Bruno Martini was handed a 12-month suspended prison sentence, said his lawyer, Elie Dottelonde. The president of the National Handball League also was fined 2,500 euros (US$2,700) and barred from working in professions that come in contact with children for five years, his attorney said.

The National Handball League subsequently announced that the 52-year-old Martini resigned as president with immediate effect.

Handball is a popular sport in France. The country’s men and women are the reigning Olympic champions. Before moving into handball management, Martini was a star player, keeping goal in 202 appearances for the French national team.

News of the police probe involving the two-time Olympian and two-time former world champion came as France’s men were preparing to play Germany on Wednesday for a semifinal spot at the world championships.

Martini is the latest leader of an Olympic sport in France to become embroiled in scandal in the countdown to the 2024 Games, which open in Paris in just under 550 days.

French soccer federation president Noël Le Graët is under police investigation for sexual harassment and “moral harassment.” French rugby federation president Bernard Laporte is appealing a two-year suspended sentence that a Paris court handed down last month. He was found guilty of passive corruption, influence peddling, illegal interest-taking and misuse of corporate assets.

The head of the Paris Games organizing committee, Tony Estanguet, expressed hope Wednesday that the various cases will progress quickly “so we can turn the page.”

“French sports need stability,” he said. “We hope things quickly return to normal.”

Martini was taken into police custody Monday morning for questioning on suspicion of attempted sexual assault on a 15-year-old, of corrupting a minor and recording pornographic images of children, the Paris prosecutor’s office said. He was then released Tuesday night before the plea deal with prosecutors was finalized Wednesday.

Martini’s lawyer said prosecutors determined there was insufficient evidence to maintain the charge of attempted sexual assault.

The lesser charges Martini pleaded guilty to were corrupting a minor aged over 15 and acquiring and possessing pornographic images of children, the lawyer said. He said Martini and the boy exchanged sexual images and that the boy’s parents subsequently filed a police complaint.

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Scandal hits another Olympic sport in France — handball