On Friday February 17th Banque Populaire announced their withdrawal from the Vendée Globe 2024, as a result of the “Clarisse Crémer affair”. Tip & Shaft has tried to find out more about the reasons for this decision.
Recap of the facts: On February 2, Clarisse Crémer announced on her social networks that “Banque Populaire have decided to leave me at the dock”, so reporting the decision taken by her sponsor – in light of their perceived risk of her not to be selected for the Vendée Globe 2024 because they considered her to be late in the race for qualifying miles because of her planned maternity. The banking group immediately sent a press release and then organized a press conference by telephone to give their version of the facts, regretting in particular the “inflexibility” of SAEM Vendée, the organizer of the solo round the world race, who remained “inflexible” in the face of requests to modify the selection rules or to promise to Clarisse Crémer the wild card provided for in the notice of race, given her particular case.
Such explanations were not enough to stop a media firestorm, giving rise to many heated reactions, overwhelmingly critical of the decision of Banque Populaire who undoubtedly misjudged the potential outcry over such an announcement. It has been a real disaster in terms of image for “the sponsor of sailing”, who have been present in the sport for more than thirty years. In the hours and days since Clarisse Crémer’s post, crisis meetings follow one another at BPCE’s Paris headquarters, at the highest level. Indeed it has been Nicolas Namias, Chairman of the BPCE Management Board, who took over the live file.
The French Sailing Federation, through the intervention of president Jean-Luc Denéchau, tried to be proactive in bringing together the different parties seeking a solution, but according to our information, it was above all the French Minister of Sports, Amélie Oudéa-Castéra, who took the initiative, calling the protagonists, sponsor, skipper and organizer of the Vendée Globe on the phone.
A double proposal
Very quickly, the idea of backpedalling prevailed among the leaders of Banque Populaire, seemingly the only way for them to get out of the mess. Alain Leboeuf, president of SAEM Vendée, who talked to the two parties, confirms: “I first had Clarisse to tell us that, given her competence and her desire to be on the line from the start, I was convinced that she would be in the first forty [limited number of registrants], and that in the event of a last-minute problem, I would not forget, of course, the specific case of her pregnancy [for the possible wild card provided for in the notice of race, editor’s note]. And then I called Nicolas Naimas who told me: ‘Don’t worry, I’m taking matters into my own hands and I’m going to reinstate Clarisse.'”
According to our information that was the message taken forward into the first exchanges, first by telephone, then, in person in Lorient, between the Banque Populaire, represented by Benjamin Maitre, responsible for sponsorship and patronage, and Clarisse Crémer. She was proposed to return, with a modified project and operation. The two parties then agreed to meet again very soon and 48 hours later, still in Lorient, this time it was Laurent Buffard, Banque Populaire’s communications director, who met the sailor. Except that this time, according to those close to Cremer, the tone changed and reverted to a straight, simple reinstatement under the same conditions as before the issue kicked off.
This was a game-changer in the eyes of Clarisse Crémer, who, according to our information, believes that the relationship of trust with part of Team Banque Populaire, damaged in previous months, no longer exists and now refused to return. Under these circumstances Banque Populaire took note and decided to give up on the 2024 Vendée Globe, in the eyes of the group their only way out.
Clarisse Crémer wants to continue
“It’s a huge mess,” laments Team Banque Populaire. And if the BPCE group reaffirmed in its press release its intention to continue to “support clubs, schools, French sailing teams and its offshore racing team everywhere in France and on all the oceans of the world”, some are not hiding their worries for the future. Especially if the Arkéa Ultim Challenge-Brest goes badly for Armel Le Cléac’h in a year’s time.
And in the meantime, the Banque Populaire team finds itself with an IMOCA – Charlie Dalin’s former Apivia – on its hands, which it bought from insurance company. It will be either leased or sold – possibly even to Clarisse Crémer – but that will be the sponsor’s decision. What about this latter idea? According to our information, the sailor, who has followed her own self-imposed strict radio silence since the outbreak of the case, has not given up participating in the next Vendée Globe, and indeed is working on a new set up.
Finally, on the Vendée Globe side, Alain Leboeuf, says he is “really disappointed” with their decision which he says which he finally learned via the press release. “I will have the opportunity to call Banque Populaire and Clarisse back, but I told her during our discussions that whatever happened, even if there was another sponsor who was interested in her, I would receive them, without any problem.”
And finally on the actual subject of the Vendée Globe regulations, which – ultimately – he refused to review Leboeuf concludes : “Everything was planned for, that’s what I explained to the minister. I said that when I wanted there to be only one wild card left, the first hypothesis I imagined in the very first place, was that of a pregnant skipper; I also thought of the case of a person with a disability who could have had a last-minute problem. The rules may have to be even clearer for the Vendée Globe 2028, but we cannot say that this was not in our planning.”
Photo: Olivier Blanchet – Alea – BPCE