French ice skating boss quits amid abuse scandal

File photo of Sarah Abitol in 2013

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Getty Images

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Champion skater Sarah Abitbol said she was first raped by her former coach when she was 15

The long-time head of France’s ice sports federation has resigned amid a sexual abuse scandal in figure skating.

Didier Gailhaguet said he was leaving with his head held high and without bitterness at the “injustice” of being forced out by the sports minister.

Several former skating champions have come forward to accuse three trainers of sexually abusing them as teenagers.

Mr Gailhaguet is not personally implicated. The alleged abuse happened from the end of the 1970s to the 1990s.

Speaking after a meeting of the French Ice Sports Federation (FFSG) council in Paris, Mr Gailhaguet, 66, said: “I have taken the wise decision to resign from my post… I have taken this decision with composure, with dignity, but without any bitterness before this injustice.”

On Monday, French Sports Minister Roxana Maracineanu asked Mr Gailhaguet to resign.

He led the federation almost continuously since 1998 – there was a hiatus between 2004 and 2007 after the International Skating Union suspended him over the judging scandal at the 2002 Olympics in Salt Lake City.

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AFP

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Didier Gailhaguet announces his resignation after a federation’s meeting

In an autobiography released last week, champion figure skater Sarah Abitbol alleged her former coach Gilles Beyer abused her when she was a teenager. Ms Abitbol, who is now 44, said she was aged 15 when it first happened.

Mr Beyer has admitted to “intimate” and “inappropriate” relations with her, and said he was “sincerely sorry”.

French prosecutors said on Tuesday they would investigate the allegations.

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Three other skaters have accused Mr Beyer and two other coaches – who are all from the FFSG – of abusing and raping them when they were minors. Jean-Roland Racle denies the accusations and Michel Lotz has not commented.

Ms Abitbol and her skating partner, Stéphane Bernadis, are 10-time French national champions, and have won seven European medals. At the 2000 World Championships, the two became the first French pair to win a world medal in nearly 70 years.

But in her book, Such a Long Silence, Ms Abitbol alleged that she was raped by Mr Beyer between 1990 and 1992. “He started to do horrible things leading to sexual abuse,” she told L’Obs magazine. “It was the first time a man touched me.”

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EPA

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Sarah Abitbol and Stéphane Bernadis performing at the 2002 European Figure Skating Championships

The former skater rejected Mr Beyer’s apology and said that she wanted accountability for “all those who covered up [the crimes] both in the club and the federation”.

Mr Beyer, after coaching Ms Abitbol, went on to direct France’s national skating teams. In the early 2000s, he was the subject of two investigations into misconduct.

The second investigation, conducted by France’s sports ministry, found repeated “serious acts” against young skaters. His contract as a technical adviser was terminated in 2001.