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Last Updated: Wednesday, 6 August, 2003, 12:35 GMT 13:35 UK
'Tennis drugging' arrest shocks France

By Hugh Schofield
In Paris

The world of French tennis is in deep shock after the news that the father of one of the country's leading juniors has been placed under judicial investigation for allegedly drugging his son's opponents.

Christophe Fauviau arrested in Dax, southwest France
Mr Fauviau has been questioned by police
Christophe Fauviau, a 43-year-old former soldier from the south-western town of Dax, was arrested on Sunday on suspicion of administering the anti-anxiety drug Temesta to at least three players who faced his 15-year-old son Maxime at local tournaments.

One player was hospitalised for two days, but it was the fate of another alleged victim that shattered the local community and led the police to see it as a possible criminal matter.

Driving home after the match last month, 25-year-old teacher Alexandre Lagardere crashed his car and was killed.

The case has focused attention on the high-pressure and at times unhealthy relationship that can develop between tennis prodigies and their parents.

Psychological tests

With Fauviau senior undergoing psychological tests in prison, questions were being asked why he allegedly took such drastic action in competitions for his son which were of minimal significance.

For while Fauviau's 13-year-old daughter Valentine is the country's number one at her level, Maxime was no more than a gifted adolescent, local tennis officials said.

"It is hard to imagine that such things, if it's true, were done for so little. The boy is a good regional player but nothing more," said Francois Duport, of the Dax tennis league.

"All this is said to have taken place in tournaments whose first prize was a leg of ham!" said the league's lawyer Renaud Lahitete.

The story began in late June when Maxime's opponent in the semi-final of a competition at the village of Bascons complained that he saw Christophe Fauviau tampering with his water-bottle before the match.

He did not drink the water, but lost the match anyway and kept the bottle.

The next day, in the final, the same player says he noticed Fauviau senior once again fiddling with water bottles by the court.

Then half-way through the match Maxim's opponent fell ill and was taken to hospital, where he spent two days. When he came out the two players gave a statement to local police and handed over the suspect bottle for analysis.

Car death

The controversy might have ended there, except that a few days later Alexandre Lagardere lost to Maxime in the quarter-final of another local tournament.

Feeling drowsy and unwell, he slept for two hours at a friend's house, then left for home. On the way he crashed his car and was killed.

The autopsy found no traces of alcohol on his body, but then the laboratory tests on the water-bottle came in, showing traces of Temesta.

Police made the link with Lagardere - and further tests showed he had consumed the drug as well.

'Toxic substances'

Christophe Fauviau was detained at Dax railway station on Saturday on his return from Cairo where he had watched his daughter Valentine take part in an international competition.

He has been placed under judicial investigation - a first step to full charges - for "administering toxic substances with premeditation and unintentionally causing death."

There is no suggestion he used similar underhand methods to aid Valentine in her much more promising career.

But in Dax several others of Maxime's opponents have come forward to complain of drowsiness during their matches, and police are deciding whether the investigation should be widened.

And at the local tennis club, grief at the death of Alexandre Lagardere - a much-loved local figure - is mixed with consternation that parental ambition could possibly have plumbed such depths of tragic folly.



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