Abuse of power in tennis: The DTB and the “Hordorff case”

Status: 06/01/2023 06:00 a.m

The German Tennis Federation should change structures and rules in order to prevent sexualized assaults as far as possible. This is recommended by a law firm commissioned by the DTB. The triggers were allegations of abuse of power against former DTB Vice President Dirk Hordorff.

In retrospect, things often seem clearer. Also the path that one should or could have taken. However, the German Tennis Association (DTB) gives the impression: “Everything was done right” in the “Dirk Hordorff case”, which shook the association to the core a few weeks ago. When asked whether he would act differently when dealing with this issue from today’s perspective, DTB President Dietloff von Arnim answers confidently: “Essentially: no.”

accusation of abuse of power and sexualized violence

Viewed from the outside, however, many observers find the handling of the case at least unfortunate. The former tennis pro Maximilian Abel and other players had accused Dirk Hordorff, then Vice President of the association, of abuse of power and sexualised violence. The allegations became public in mid-April through joint research by NDR, Sportschau and the “Süddeutsche Zeitung”.

14 players make allegations

Since then, other tennis players have come forward and also made allegations against Hordorff. There are now 14 people in total, including two current professionals. Some of you testified to the research team in affidavits that Dirk Hordorff had violated borders and abused his power.

After the allegations against Hordorff were first published two months ago, he resigned from his post after repeated requests and public pressure – according to his own statements for health reasons. Hordorff denies all allegations. He let his lawyers know that Maximilian was Abel “not believable”. In addition, there were investigations against Abel for extortion, which the Gießen public prosecutor’s office confirmed on request.

Dirk Hordorff has resigned from his post as Vice President of the German Tennis Association. This was preceded by reports of abuse of power.

Letter to the DTB President

In fact, Maximilian Abel, who is currently serving a prison sentence for fraud, wrote a letter to the DTB President in February 2022, demanding financial compensation. Abel’s lawyer Thomas Galli explains that his client withdrew this claim in the presence of lawyers from the DTB.

At the latest with a letter to von Arnim, the “Hordorff case” also begins for the DTB. The DTB President meets Abel in prison for a personal conversation. In the summer of 2022, the Presidium of the German Tennis Association then decides to have the allegations made by Abel investigated. The Hamburg law firm FHM has been commissioned to do this. A psychologist also speaks to Maximilian Abel. She should check whether his allegations against Hordorff are credible.

The law firm needs eight months for the investigation. Eight witnesses are heard for this. Among them, in addition to Abel, was the Indian tennis pro Sriram Balaji, who reported to NDR, Sportschau and “SZ” that he had to undress in front of Hordorff because he wanted to examine his muscles. Hordorff also denies this allegation.

In an interview with NDR, Sportschau and SZ, a former and a current tennis professional raise serious allegations against a high-ranking tennis official and coach. It is about sexualized violence and alleged abuse of power.

Hordorff remains in office throughout the investigation

The law firm commissioned by the DTB came to the conclusion in its final report, which NDR, Sportschau and “SZ” were able to see, that Balaji’s statements corresponded “most likely” the truth. Abel’s accusation that Hordorff had hit him on the bare buttocks with a belt in a Hamburg hotel is also considered by the law firm in its report “predominantly likely”. Hordorff, on the other hand, also denies this incident.

During the entire period of the investigation, Dirk Hordorff remained in office as Vice President responsible for youth and competitive sports. The statutes do not provide for a suspension during the investigation. “We have to accept that in this case”, said DTB President Dietloff von Arnim. So Hordorff was able to continue to represent the DTB at events.

Hordorff gets insight, Abel doesn’t

The German Tennis Association keeps the results of the investigation under wraps. For data protection reasons, as President Dietloff von Arnim explains in an interview with NDR, Sportschau and “SZ”. However, Dirk Hordorff is aware of the 86-page investigation report by the law firm. On request, the FHM lawyers write: “The accused is fully informed about the results, was able to take a look and comment”.

Maximilian Abel, on the other hand, only received a four-page summary of the results, his lawyer confirms. Entire passages were even missing from the credibility report prepared for him.

Compliance expert Olaf Methner can “I don’t quite understand the different handling of the scope of file inspection”. The lawyer concludes that “that the interests of the accused are weighted higher and broader than the interests of the person concerned”.

“Actually, Mr. Abel should have received a possibly partially redacted version of the full report.”, writes Methner on request. Maximilien Klein from the German Athletes Interest Group, who has also been involved in the case for more than a year, fears: “The accused could have had the opportunity to influence the ongoing proceedings.”

The law firm explains that in this case it was based on criminal law, since there are no rules for such investigations. This is also confirmed by compliance experts. However, they refer to the recommendations of the federal government’s review commission on how such investigations should best be carried out.

DOSB guidelines not taken into account

However, the DTB had just as little orientated itself to this as to the guidelines of the German Olympic Sports Confederation for dealing with cases of interpersonal violence in sport. The DOSB published these guidelines at the end of last year. The DOSB writes to us on request that they have already been made available to the German Tennis Association in advance. And further: “Among other things, it was pointed out that there could be other victims and witnesses, so that an independent investigation was indicated.”

Only now, after the investigation by the commissioned law firm, has the German Tennis Association set up a whistleblower for such cases and also set up a processing commission. In it: a lawyer who also oversees the whistleblower’s office at the same time. Experts consider this dual role to be problematic. Contrary to what experts recommend, those affected are not represented there themselves. According to the DTB, your perspective will be included.