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France’s skating chief resigns over coach sex scandal

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Former French Ice Sports Federation president Didier Gailhaguet looks on as he announces his resignation. AFP

France’s skating chief resigns over coach sex scandal

The under-fire president of France’s ice skating federation Didier Gailhaguet resigned on Saturday over his handling of accusations that a former national coach raped a top skater when she was in her teens.

Gailhaguet finally bowed to pressure from France’s sports minister to step down after former world championship medallist Sarah Abitbol accused coach Gilles Beyer of sexually assaulting her.

“In the spirit of conciliation, I took the sensible decision to resign with philosophy, dignity but no bitterness,” Gailhaguet, 66, announced after a meeting of the federation’s federal council in Paris.

In an autobiography published last month, Abitbol alleged Beyer raped her several times from 1990 to 1992 when she was between the ages of 15 and 17.

That claim led to accusations from other skaters.

Helene Godard accused Beyer and another coach Jean-Roland Racle of sexual abuse when she was a minor.

Sports daily L’Equipe reported that the mother of another young skater claimed that Beyer sexually harassed and blackmailed her in 2017 and 2018 in return for coaching her daughter.

Gailhaguet had initially refused calls from Sports Minister Roxana Maracineanu to move aside, saying on Wednesday that he had “absolutely not protected Gilles Beyer” and protesting that he had found out about “90 percent of these incidents in the press and in a book 10 days ago”.

‘Dictatorship’

In announcing his resignation, Gailhaguet hit out at “the ministerial dictatorship and in particular the shameful threat of withdrawing support” from the federation made by Maracineanu.

The minister herself hailed Gailhaguet’s departure as “a first step”.

“There is no other solution than to knock things down to rebuild again,” she said, adding: “We owe it to the victims.”

Abitbol was unimpressed at Gailhaguet’s resignation, telling French news magazine L’Obs that “the entire federation where he had friends still has to be cleaned out”.

“Those who remained quiet and supported his system are still there,” she added.

A lawyer representing Beyer says his client is prepared to talk to prosecutors investigating claims of sexual abuse of minors.

On Gailhaguet’s watch, Beyer, already Abitbol’s coach, took over as manager of the French national team.

There were previous complaints of inappropriate behaviour, and in 2000 an inquiry led the sports ministry to remove Beyer from his technical role at the federation, but he remained a coach at one of France’s top skating clubs.

Beyer held an executive position at the federation until 2018.

Gailhaguet’s long period at the helm of French ice skating, which began in 1998 was interrupted by a three-year international ban following a judging scandal at the 2002 Salt Lake City Winter Olympics .

In 2004 he was forced to stand down as federation boss over a critical auditor’s report, only to be reinstated as FFSG chief in 2007.

Maryvonne Del Torchio, who heads the federation’s council, will take over as president in a caretaker capacity.

Before the scandal erupted French ice skating’s reputation had already been tarnished by an investigation into US-based skater Morgan Cipres for allegedly sending lewd photographs to a 13-year-old girl.

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