PARIS (AP) – A national campaign against sexual violence in sport in France has exposed more than 400 coaches, teachers and other figures suspected of committing or covering up abuse.
Most of the victims were under the age of 15, according to data released Friday by the sports ministry after a year of investigations. The alleged abuses include assaults, harassment and other types of violence.
Sixty people face criminal proceedings and more than 100 have lost their jobs temporarily or permanently. Other cases are under investigation, the ministry said.
The abuse covers the entire country and numerous disciplines, with accusations to a total of 48 sports federations.
96% of the accused are men. 83% of the victims are women and 63% are under the age of 15, the ministry said.
The investigation was launched in February 2020 when 10-time French skating champion Sarah Abitbol said in a book that coach Gilles Beyer raped her multiple times between 1990 and 1992, when she was a teenager. Beyer must answer preliminary charges of sexual assault and the investigation continues.
Following Abitbol’s accusations, other skaters denounced the alleged sexual violence of the coaches. The sports ministry created a platform to receive testimonies from athletes and held hearings for a year.
The ministry said in a statement that Abitbol’s testimony constitutes “a historic moment for French sport” that has raised awareness and prompted authorities to crack down on abuses. Stronger rules for the evaluation of sports teachers, including volunteer coaches, have been in place since Friday. The government and sports federations are committed to responding to allegations of abuse more quickly and effectively.
Sports Minister Roxana Maracineanu has played a crucial role in raising awareness. In a recent interview with The Associated Press, the former swimming champion described her own experiences with sexism and said it is time to change French mindsets on women’s rights in the male-dominated world of sports.
At a government meeting on Friday to assess the campaign against sexual violence, Abitbol said it is “healing” and is pleased to see other victims make public complaints, daily L’Equipe reported. Former tennis champion Isabelle Demongeot described the “battle” she had to wage against the public and her colleagues by accusing her coach of rape. Former hammer thrower Catherine Moyon de Beacque, the first to publicly denounce the abuses in 1991, praised the current measures taken “at the highest level in the state.”