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French investigation exposes more than 20 skating coaches

NHK Trophy - Day 3

SAPPORO, JAPAN - NOVEMBER 13: A general view of the rink during day three of the ISU Grand Prix of Figure Skating NHK Trophy at Makomanai Sekisui Heim Arena on November 13, 2011 in Sapporo, Japan. (Photo by Koki Nagahama/Getty Images)

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PARIS — More than 20 coaches working with the French ice skating federation or its clubs have been identified following an investigation into accusations of sexual assault, harassment or violence, the French ministry of sports said on Tuesday.

The fact-finding probe was launched in February at the request of the sports ministry after 10-time French champion Sarah Abitbol said in a book she was raped by skating coach Gilles Beyer from 1990-92, when she was a teen. Her revelations led to the resignation of the long-serving head of France’s skating federation, Didier Gailhaguet, who denied protecting the coach.

In the wake of Abitbol’s accusations, more skaters spoke out to denounce alleged sexual violence from coaches over a 30-year period.

After conducting hearings and analyzing athletes’ testimonies on a dedicated platform set up by the ministry, the probe found out 12 coaches have been accused of harassment or sexual assault, including three who were sentenced to prison terms. In addition, seven cases of physical or verbal violence were reported, while two other cases related to trainers who died before the end of judicial proceedings.

“The volume of cases identified is indicative of practices and behaviors that have been replicated through generations of coaches,” the ministry said. “It is unparalleled internationally.”

The investigation also pointed out a “real alcohol problem” among some skating coaches.

Paris prosecutors opened a criminal investigation after Abitbol accused Beyer. According to the sports ministry, one coach was placed in detention in February while five others were banned in April from coaching. All of the administrative investigations that had stopped because of the coronavirus lockdown in France have resumed.

The Associated Press does not normally name sexual assault victims but Abitbol accused Beyer in a book published last week and has also spoken about her personal experience on television.