February 5, 2020 / 5:27 PM / 18 days ago

French federation boss admits to mistakes but says not at fault amid rape claims

PARIS (Reuters) - French ice sports federation president Didier Gailhaguet refused to resign on Wednesday amid claims of rape and sexual assault of minors in figure skating, admitting to having made ‘mistakes’ but saying he was never ‘at fault’.

French figure skating federation president Didier Gailhaguet attends a news conference in Paris, France February 5, 2020. REUTERS/Charles Platiau

French prosecutors on Tuesday launched a preliminary investigation into former figure skating coach Gilles Beyer for the alleged rape of a minor and sexual aggression.

Former figure skater Sarah Abitbol, a bronze medallist with partner Stephane Bernadis at the 2000 world championships, recently published a book in which she said Beyer had raped her multiple times from 1990 to 1992.

Beyer last week said that he had had “intimate” and “inappropriate” relations with Abibtol, who is now 44, in comments to Agence France Presse. Beyer could not immediately be reached for comment.

Three other skaters also claimed they were raped by former coaches.

Gailhaguet has been president of the FFSG since 1998 with a hiatus between 2004-07 after he was suspended by the International Skating Union for his role in a judging scandal at the 2002 Olympics in Salt Lake City.

Beyer, however, was the team manager of a French juniors team at the 2011 world championships, despite a Sports ministry-led inquiry from 2000 showing that the former coach had inappropriate behaviour with an underage skater.

The inquiry showed that in 1999, Beyer went to an underage skater’s bedroom during a training camp and ‘put his hand behind the young girl’s neck, pulled her toward him and asked ‘do you want me to kiss you or do you want me to go’.”

“He asked her how old she was, adding, after she had told him she was 17, ‘17 or 18, it doesn’t change anything’,” stated the report, which Reuters has seen.

“Everybody makes mistakes. I made mistakes but I was never at fault,” Gailhaguet, who claimed he initiated the 2000 inquiry, told a news conference.

“Yes, the executive committee named him team manager of the juniors team in 2011. It’s easy to judge now that we know the facts.

“Ninety percent of all the facts, I’ve just learned them,” said Gailhaguet, who admitted he had ‘not fully read’ Abitbol’s book.

Sports minister Roxana Maracineanu asked Gailhaguet to resign, saying he could not “absolve himself of his moral and personal responsibility”.

The Sports ministry is launching an investigation into 200 figure skating clubs in France.

“I will not resign until I see the results of the investigation,” Gailhaguet said.

“The minister is asking me to resign over facts that occurred 30 years ago when I was not the president of the FFSG.

“To stigmatise a federation president, who is hard-working and honest, is disgusting.”

Reporting by Julien Pretot; Editing by Christian Radnedge

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