Last weekend out of the blue Kevin Escoffier announced that he was stepping down as skipper of Holcim-PRB for the final weeks of The Ocean Race following an “alleged incident” with a woman from his team in Newport before the start of the fifth stage. Since then the French Sailing Federation has taken up the case, Tip & Shaft took stock of this sensitive matter.
The story starts on the evening of Monday May 15 in Newport, when the Holcim-PRB team is about to complete the logistical challenge of starting the fifth leg of The Ocean Race after dismasting off Brazil some three weeks earlier. Several members of the teams meet at a local bar, The Fastnet Pub. Then an “incident” involving Kevin Escoffier and a young woman from the team then occurs.
Nothing filters out from the moment, and the crew meets the next day in the early morning for the daily sports session. But more and more insistent rumors, which Tip & Shaft heard then, were circulating about this incident whilst Holcim-PRB were at sea during the fifth leg which started from Newport on May 21. The leg was won on May 29 in Aahrus by 11th Hour Racing Team ahead of Kevin Escoffier’s crew. In Denmark, the case continues to have people talking; it is mentioned collectively within the team as the skipper will recognize later in an interview given on June 6 to L’Équipe and Ouest-France.
It grows to the point that last Saturday Escoffier decides, on the eve of the in-port of Aarhus, to stand down and give up his participation in The Ocean Race, talking on his Instagram account of “an alleged incident“. A press release from the team at the same time reveals the composition of the crew for the sixth stage. It does not mention Escoffier.
The FFV’s Jean-Luc Denechau investigates
These two communications prompt the president of the French Sailing Federation Jean-Luc Denéchau, to want to know more, as he said last Sunday in Le Télégramme. He confirmed this to us on Thursday during our telephone interview. “This dissonance challenged me, I made a very few phone calls which led me to realise very quickly that the “alleged incident” mentioned by Kevin was an inappropriate behaviour that he had made towards a young woman during an evening stopover in Newport”, the president of the FFVoile says. He does not wish to name the people he telephoned other than saying they are, “reliable sources that I know”
And the boss of the FFV to continue: “The facts which have been reported to me require, as a representative of the French Sailing Federation, which has a mission and delegation of public service, that it was my responsibility to make a report to the Ministry of Sports. I did not call Kevin, because that is not my role as president. My role is to defend the general interest and deliver a safe, secure environment for licensees. If the behaviour is proven, it is obviously totally unacceptable and has no place in our federation.”
The report of the Federation was received by the Ministry of Sports on Monday afternoon as confirmed by the office of Minister Amélie Oudéa-Castéra. At the same time phone exchanges took place between the president Denéchau and Fabienne Bourdais who is director of Sports at the ministry and with Baptiste Meyer, delegate of the federation whose remit includes problems of violence, and the ministerial department which deals with such issues.
A disciplinary procedure is opened by the FFV
The Ministry of Sports can trigger an administrative procedure via the prefect of the area (department) where Escoffier lives (Morbihan) but this does not seem to be relevant at the moment according to sources familiar with the matter. The rest of the procedure is now very much in the hands of the FFVoile: “We are going to open a disciplinary procedure, says Denéchau. An individual will be appointed within the federation, the different parties will be contacted and will be heard – possibly with their legal counsel – by the disciplinary committee which will then move to a possible sanction. This can range from a warning to the withdrawal of a license for a variable or definitive period.” This could obviously compromise the sporting future of Kevin Escoffier.
Under article 40 of the criminal law, the Federation has also an obligation to report to the public prosecutor if the facts are likely to receive become a criminal case. In this specific situation, do the facts relate to sexual assault, which has not been established to date? “It is not my role to say if it is a sexual assault, comments Jean-Luc Denéchau. But one of the roles of the Federation is indeed to take legal action in this context, it is a possibility.”
Contacted to give his version of the facts, Kevin Escoffier referred us to his lawyer, Virginie Le Roy. She told us that she had so far received no news from the various institutions, which prompted her to send a letter to the French Sailing Federation on Thursday evening to demand that any disciplinary proceedings should begin quickly to allow the sailor to defend himself. The lawyer does not wish to say more than what the skipper wrote in his press release on Tuesday and what he said that same day to the journalists from L’Équipe and Ouest-France.
“To date, there is still no testimony, Kevin Escoffier said in Ouest-France. If only out of respect for all the protagonists in this affair, and in an incident like this I consider that I don’t have to give my perception, my testimony, or explain facts, through the press. I will reserve that for sports institutions when they ask me to.”
When asked if the incident had been resolved internally, Escoffier responded: “There are several solutions to resolve this type of problem. First from person to person, and that’s what had been done in Newport and Aarhus. Or we can use the help of institutions. We had done the first solution, internally, but today, there is also media pressure for it to also be studied by the institutions. And in both cases, I have said that I will be available.”
Radio silence on the part of the sponsors
What about the organizer of The Ocean Race? Delegate in this area for the race, Victoria Low referred us to the press release sent on Tuesday which specified: “The Ocean Race was made aware that an incident took place during the stopover in Newport (…) On Monday (5 June), we spoke with the FFV, who confirmed they are following their procedures to set up an investigation (…), we support this initiative and are fully cooperating with the FFV.”
At World Sailing, the CEO David Graham replied by email: “We are aware of allegations related to an incident at the Rhode Island stopover of The Ocean Race. We are working with the relevant stakeholders to ensure this matter is being dealt with appropriately and with the seriousness it merits. While we are not able to comment on the incident at this stage, behaviours of the kind alleged must not be tolerated in our sport. World Sailing is wholeheartedly committed to ensuring our sport is a safe and welcoming environment for all, and we will take any actions necessary to ensure we fulfil this commitment.”
On behalf of the team and on the partners of Kevin Escoffier, Holcim and PRB – Holcim being the Swiss cement giant which bought PRB a year ago -, nobody wanted to answer us and talk of the the possible consequences of the situation and on the future effects on the Imoca project.
Damian Foxall is calling for
a global reflection
As for the other competitors in The Ocean Race, most are very cautious for the moment. A sailor contacted in Aarhus spoke of a “heavy atmosphere“, however wishing that “tongues are loosened”. Another was “sad and surprised at the events” but assured us that “No one mentions Kevin here.” The only team that agreed to talk about the incident was 11th Hour Racing Team, via its sustainability manager Damian Foxall, who makes it clear that he is speaking in this capacity and not as a rival of the Holcim-PRB team.
Without wanting to comment on the facts, Foxall believes that whatever is proven or not, it must lead to a global review. “A lot of work has been done on inclusion, diversity and gender equality in racing, but perhaps more needs to be done to ensure that major events and classes put in place charters to define the standards of work, the responsibilities of managers, but also the safeguards and warning mechanisms as necessary. These systems must be clear, accessible and well identified. The Ocean Race has its own but are they sufficiently known and accessible to everyone? I don’t know. What is the Imoca class doing on these subjects ? You have to ask them.”
Contacted in Aarhus just before the start of the sixth stage, Imoca did not wish to comment at this stage.
Photo: Julien Champolion – Holcim-PRB