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The Curious Diplomatic Status of Boris Becker, the Sports Envoy

Off court battle: Becker sits on the floor after falling during his match against America’s Jimmy Connors in their final of the then Stella Artois grass court championships at Queen’s Club, in west London

Boris Becker, former tennis champion has beaten some of the best tennis players in the world but is now fighting the biggest battle of his life as he tries to shake off the dogged pursuit of creditors. He has claimed diplomatic immunity from bankruptcy proceedings by becoming a sports envoy with the Central African Republic.

Becker, 50, was declared bankrupt by a British court in 2017 in connection to a debt to private bankers Arbuthnot Latham & Co. He has recently been pursued for “further assets”, according to a statement by his lawyers.

The German former world number 1 lodged a claim at the High Court in London to halt the case because his appointment as Attache to the European Union on sporting, cultural and humanitarian affairs entitled him to immunity under the 1961 Vienna Convention on Diplomatic relations, the statement said.

Champion: Seventeen year-old Boris Becker became the youngest and first unseeded player to win the Wimbledon men’s single’s final, when he beat the South African-American born Kevin Curren 6-3, 6-7, 7-6, 6-4 in 1985

Becker said the proceedings against him were “unjustified and unjust”.

“I have now asserted diplomatic immunity … in order to bring this farce to an end, so that I can start to rebuild my life,” he said in a statement.

“I am immensely proud of my appointment at the Sports and Culture Attache for the Central African Republic.”

Arbuthnot Latham & Co had no immediate comment on Becker’s latest masterstroke. Another namesake, Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson is now believed to be one of the figures who can determine his fate based on his freshly acquired diplomatic status.

However, the foreign minister of the former French colony and one of the world’s poorest and unstable countries, has offered scant support for Becker.

“No diplomat can avail himself of his immunity in the face of his own turpitude,” Chancel Sokode told Reuters by phone. “He cannot brandish his immunity in this case to shirk his responsibilities.”

Central African Republic has suffered a string of bloody political crises since former president Francois Bozize seized power in a 2003 military coup.

Violence erupted again in 2013 when mainly Muslim Seleka rebels ousted Bozize, prompting reprisals from mostly Christian militias.

A UN report last year said many of the incidents of rape, murder, torture and looting by various groups and governments from 2003-2015 could constitute crimes against humanity.

Becker has appointed human rights lawyer Ben Emmerson to handle his claim. Emmerson has previously represented Wikileaks founder and fugitive  Julian Assange as he contested his extradition to Sweden, and the wife of ex-KGB agent Alexander Litvinenko, who was murdered in London in 2006.

Indeed, the whiff of scandal and debt is not good for Becker’s profile as a globetrotting tennis pundit at the major grand slam tournaments and handsome earnings. The saga has also gone on far too long with no resolution in sight. He has been haemorrhaging lucrative contracts and may be the reason for this latest throw of the diplomatic dice.

BORIS IN THE BROOM CUPBOARD

Poker face: Becker, Team PokerStars’ ambassador, launches the Pokerstars.com European Poker Tour at the Victoria Grosvenor Casino in west London

Charismatic Becker is not a stranger to the media spotlight. He became the youngest man to win Wimbledon at 17 years, 7 months when he defeated Kevin Curren in 1985. He went on to win the prestigious tournament twice more, making his final appearance on Wimbledon’s centre court in 1997, when he lost to Pete Sampras in the quarter-finals.

He retired from the international circuit two years later, after amassing an estimated £100m in prize money and sponsorship deals. But the end of his professional career on court was just the beginning of the media fascination with the tennis superstar.

His name moved from the back pages of newspapers to the front after a broom cupboard liaison with Russian-African model Angela Ermakowa at fashionable London restaurant Nobu hastened the demise of his marriage to model Barbara, with whom he had two children, Noah and Elias. It also resulted in the birth of his illegitimate daughter Anna, who was the subject of a bitter paternity suit. He recently separated from his second wife.

He once rationalised wealth: “The more money you earn, the more you lose a sense of its value. You get used to eating caviar, and at some point, it begins to taste as ordinary as anything else.”
Perhaps, he will now be moving on to Ferrero Rochers.

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