An epic saga of man versus federation is unfolding in France. If you haven’t been following, here is what’s gone down so far.
The short version of the story, sans all of the gory details, is that Bousquet requested that the French swimming federation (Fédération Française de Natation, or FFN) accredit Brett Hawke as a member of the French coaching staff for the 2011 Shanghai World Championships that are to take place this summer. Hawke, the head coach of both the collegiate and the elite international sides at Auburn, is in charge of the vast majority of Bousquet’s training (though domestically he officially represents the powerful Marseille club).
The FFN, and specifically its chair Christian Donze, have denied Bousquet’s request, in saying that if Hawke receives credentials as a member of another federation, then Bousquet is more than welcome to consult with him, but that they will not include Hawke on their staff. It is not unusual for National Team Federations to include the personal coaches of their best athletes on their coaching staffs for major meets.
Bousquet has responded by saying that he will boycott the championships if Hawke is not pool side. Donze’s response to that threat has been that while it will surely hurt the French team, that it will hurt Bousquet more. He also pointed out that it is unlikely that Bousquet’s sponsors would be pleased with the decision to sit out one of swimming’s two biggest events.
Now, the coach in question, Brett Hawke, has gotten in on the discussion. Hawke has been a bit of a lightning-rod for controversy since taking over the Auburn program from Richard Quick.
He told French-language sports website sport24.com that he “does not agree with Fred and what he did…We really have to speak. I’ll call him in the coming days.” He went on to say that he doesn’t think that this has anything to do with him being in Shanghai, and rather it was the latest in a long-running feud between Bousquet and the FFN. Hawke supported this statement by making the excellent observation that he was not on deck at the World Championships in Rome in 2009, where the French swimmer scored a silver in the 50 and bronze in the 100 freestyles.
This is sort of a tricky situation for Bousquet . For his part, I think Hawke’s response is exactly what it should have been: that this was a non-issue in his mind, and that it was a situation where he had sort of been thrust into a grudge that has nothing to do with him. Bousquet, on the other hand, has not handled this well. His reputation already took a hit in 2010, when he tested positive for the banned substance heptimanol. He was later cleared of intentional wrong-doing (claiming he was duped by a pharmacist after a bout with hemorrhoids) and given only a token suspension, but it certainly didn’t earn him any fans. Skipping the World Championships is the last thing he needs right now.
On the other hand, he has a point. He is the only French medal-hopeful who won’t have his personal coach there. As one of the 3 biggest names in French swimming for the last 4 years, one would imagine that he would have earned a level of respect from his National Federation where his coach could be brought to a World Championship meet.
There’s really only one positive outcome for this scenario. Bousquet’s representatives need to make an arrangement for the French Federation to include Brett Hawke on their staff concurrently with a public “kiss-and-make-up” between Bousquet and Donze where both sides can save face. I doubt that this will happen, and this situation will become a big game of “chicken” and who will blink first. Hawke is the only one who’s getting positive cred out of this, because he’s handling the situation with a lot of grace and maturity that seems to otherwise be absent.