7th February 2020

Sexual abuse allegations hit French sport

Didier Gailhaguet, President of the French figure skating association (FFSG), has resisted calls for him to resign over the federation’s handling of sexual abuse allegations. World Championship bronze medalist Sarah Abitbol accused former coach Gilles Beyer of raping her several times from 1990 to 1992, when she was 15-17, in her book ‘Such a long silence’. It has been alleged that Gailhaguet knew about similar allegations involving Beyer.

On the day Abitbol’s book was published, L’Equipe published a report entitled ‘The end of the omertà on sexual violence’ detailing five further allegations of sexual abuse in figure skating – three of which involved Beyer – as well as allegations involving swimming and tennis. L’Equipe’s report mentions two investigations into Beyer during the 2000s, following complaints by parents. 

It is understood that one of these was followed up by France’s Ministry of Sport, and ended in the termination of his contract as a technical advisor. A Report, seen by AFP, shows that Gailhaguet was aware of the nature of the allegations against Beyer, which involved inappropriate behaviour towards a 17yr old at a 1999 training camp. 

Paris prosecutor Rémy Heitz confirmed an investigation has been opened into the allegations, reports France24. In addition, the Senate Committee on Culture will interview Roxana Maracineanu, France’s Minister of Sport and will organise a roundtable involving sports bodies, organisations devoted to prevention of sexual violence, and survivors of sexual abuse in French sport. ‘Rules designed to protect minors are often inadequate’, it announced. ‘The latest developments in the figure skating federation highlight that a real public policy to protect minors is still lacking today’.

In an interview with French weekly L’Obs (below), Abitbol alleged that when she mentioned her allegations to Jean-Francois Lamour, former Minister of Sport, he replied that although they had a file on Beyer, “we’re going to close our eyes”. Lamour has said that he doesn’t recall the conversation.

Last week, Beyer admitted “intimate” and “inappropriate” relations with Abitbol, telling AFP he was “sincerely sorry”. However, he added “If I remember the exact circumstances differently, I realise that given my position and her age at the time, these relations were in any case inappropriate”. 

Gailhaguet denied knowledge of what had happened, despite the Report seen by AFP indicating that he was aware of previous allegations against Beyer. “To resign, I would have to have committed a fault”, he said at a Wednesday press conference, reported the BBC. “I do not consider myself to have done so. Mistakes, maybe, but not faults.”

At the press conference, it emerged that Gailhaguet was also aware of an investigation into 2019 pairs Champion Morgan Cipres, who sent a photo of his penis to a 13 year old skater in 2017. The US Center for SafeSport opened an investigation into Cipres after being alerted about the incident, USA Today reported in December. 

The girl and her parents said that Cipres’s coaches tried to keep the family from reporting the alleged incident to authorities so as not to interrupt Cipres’s preparations for the PyeongChang 2018 Winter Olympics, reports USA Today. At the time, the FFSG and Gailhaguet told USA Today that no action was necessary against Cipres.

“We, the French athletes, feel revolted, but unfortunately not surprised”, read a letter from over 40 athletes published in Le Parisien on Tuesday. “One isolated case has become a multiple, ubiquitous monster. How many victims remain huddled in shame and fear? How many could have been avoided?”

The letter calls for a dedicated helpline for survivors of sexual abuse in French sport, as well as a widespread education programme encompassing youth athletes and anybody who works with them. It also requests that a neutral body is formed to examine the records of volunteers, coaches, club and federation figures in order to prevent incidents. It also calls for legislative measures to revoke the accreditation of any individual involved in allegations of sexual violence, as well as a lifetime ban from working with young people for anybody proven to be guilty.

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