Alpine skiing: Sex-abuse victims of former coach suing Alpine Canada

(Reuters) - Three sexual assault victims of a former ski coach are suing Alpine Canada for turning a blind eye to the abuse, according to a lawsuit filed in a Montreal court on Wednesday.

Former Canadian skiers Genevieve Simard, Gail Kelly and Anna Prchal were among nine victims of coach Bertrand Charest, who was sentenced to 12 years in prison for sex crimes in 2017.

The victims, who were all minors at the time of the assaults, allege that Alpine Canada covered up the abuse in a bid to keep the scandal under wraps and put its own interests above ensuring their well-being.

Alpine Canada said it was aware of the lawsuit and had been in ongoing discussions with Charest’s victims and continued to support them to the best of its ability.

“These women have shown tremendous courage coming forward and speaking out and we applaud their determination and commitment to helping drive change,” Alpine Canada said in a statement.

“Alpine Canada is committed to working not only within our sport, but across all sport stakeholders to ensure a safe sport environment for all athletes.

“We have taken a number of measures to improve safety over the last two decades, and we are continually reviewing best-practices with regards to athlete safety and security.”

The three women, who are each seeking C$300,000 ($224,534) in damages for the psychological, physical and sexual abuse they suffered as well as C$150,000 each in punitive damages, took issue with the Alpine Canada statement.

“We have reviewed Alpine Canada’s statement... This statement is false,” they said.

“There are no ongoing discussions with Alpine Canada. Our attempts to establish discussions were rejected.

“If Alpine Canada today wants to change their attitude and ‘offer us their support and cooperation’, we expect a confirmation on their part that they will take part in a mediation in January 2019.”

Alpine Canada did not immediately respond to a request for comment from Reuters.

Charest was found guilty in 2017 of charges including sexual assault and sexual exploitation for the abuse of athletes he coached between 1991 and 1998.

The nine victims who came forward were girls and young women aged between 12 and 18 at the time the offences were committed.

($1 = 1.3361 Canadian dollars)

Reporting by Frank Pingue in Toronto; Editing by Toby Davis and Nick Mulvenney