French skating head questioned amid sex abuse claims

The head of the French skating federation will be grilled Monday by the country's sports minister following a string of accusations of sexual abuse and rape by a coach on underage skaters.

Didier Gailhaguet is not directly targeted by the claims but will be asked about coach Gilles Beyer, who has been accused of rape and continued to work with the federation following an investigation that raised suspicion in the early 2000s.

Gailhaguet was called in following the publication of a book last week in which Sarah Abitbol, a 10-time French champion and bronze medalist in the pairs at the 2000 world championships, accused Beyer of raping her between 1990 and 1992 when she was a teenager.

“I'm expecting him to give me explanations on how, and why these cases took place," French sports minister Roxana Maracineanu said.

The 62-year-old Beyer, a former director of the French skating teams, admitted last week he had “intimate" and “inappropriate" relationships with Abitbol. On Friday, he was fired by French club Les Francais Volants, where he was holding a general delegate position.

According to L'Equipe newspaper, the French sports ministry terminated Beyer's contract as technical adviser in 2001 following a report that highlighted repeated “serious acts" committed against young skaters. Despite the dismissal, Beyer continued his work at Les Francais Volants and served several terms at the French skating federation until 2018.

The release of Abitbol's book coincided with the publication by L'Equipe of a series of articles looking into sexual abuse in skating, swimming and tennis in France. In the newspaper's report, Beyer and two other coaches were accused of sexual abuse by former skaters.

“We did not suspect that the things we have heard and read over the past few days were so big," Maracineanu said. “Everybody is shocked. Me the most.”

Gailhaguet was a central figure in the judging scandal at the 2002 Salt Lake City Olympics. After Elena Berezhnaya and Anton Sikharulidze won the pairs title, Gailhaguet was accused by French judge Marie-Reine Le Gougne of pressuring her to put the Russians ahead of Canadian pair Jamie Sale and David Pelletier. She later retracted the accusation but the International Olympic Committee awarded the Canadians duplicate gold medals. The ISU suspended Le Gougne and Gailhaguet for three years in April 2002 and banned them from the 2006 Turin Olympics.


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