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French investigation finds evidence of sexual abuse by skating coaches

The French sports ministry said on Tuesday an investigation into figure skating had produced evidence about 21 coaches which was being referred to prosecutors, with more than half accused of sexual harassment.

The probe was launched following the publication in January of a book by French ice skater Sarah Abitbol in which she accused her former coach Gilles Beyer of raping her several times between 1990 and 1992. The book sparked revelations by other skaters.

Twelve of the coaches are accused of "sexual harassment or sexual assault", including three with previous convictions and seven are suspected of "physical or verbal violence". The other two coaches are dead.

Didier Gailhaguet, the president of the French ice sports federation (FFSG) for more than 20 years, was forced to resign at the beginning of February.

The sports ministry and the General Inspectorate of Education, Sport and Research (IGESR) also launched an investigation into the sport.

"Since the investigation found facts that could be classified as criminal offences, the head of the IGESR informed ministers that she would forward the report to the public prosecutor in Paris," the sports ministry said in a statement.

"The volume of cases identified is indicative of repeated practices and behaviours that have been passed through generations of coaches in the FFSG's main disciplines of figure skating and ice dancing. It is unparallelled internationally," the ministry said.

The investigation also criticised the way the FFSG was run, with "a strong concentration of powers involving only a few managers," which could only "encourage a form of omerta over the suspicions about coaches and may have led to the absence of disciplinary procedures, or even simple investigations".

Gailhaguet has insisted throughout that he was not to blame. His lawyers reacted to the ministry statement with a statement of their own, complaining that the report was unfair to the former FFSG head.

They said investigators "disregarded the documented factual explanations provided by Mr Didier Gailhaguet's counsel, which should have been such as to dismiss the grievances formulated against him."

Beyer is also under investigation by the Paris public prosecutor's office, notably for rape.

Topics: France , sexual harassment , Gilles Beyer , rape , Sarah Abitbol , Didier Gailhaguet , French ice sports federation
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