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French figure-skating chief refuses to resign despite growing paedophilia scandal

French ice sports federation president Didier Gailhaguet delivers a speech during the press conference at the headquarters of the French Federation of Ice Sports, in Paris, on February 5, 2020, a day after French prosecutors opened an investigation into the scandal of sex abuse brought to light by former world championship bronze medallist Sarah Abitbol.
French ice sports federation president Didier Gailhaguet delivers a speech during the press conference at the headquarters of the French Federation of Ice Sports, in Paris, on February 5, 2020, a day after French prosecutors opened an investigation into the scandal of sex abuse brought to light by former world championship bronze medallist Sarah Abitbol. © Franck Fife, AFP

As a sexual abuse scandal rocks French skating, the boss of the country’s ice-skating federation Didier Gailhaguet said on Wednesday that he won’t resign and that his reputation is being “soiled by shady people”.  

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Gailhaguet gave a strongly worded denial that he knew about rape accuisations at the heart of French skating in a press conference on Wednesday, a day after French prosecutors opened an investigation into the scandal brought to light by former world championship bronze medallist Sarah Abitbol.

In her autobiography published last week, Abitbol accused coach Gilles Beyer of raping her several times from 1990 to 1992 when she was between the ages of 15 and 17. Further allegations by three other skaters of underage sexual abuse followed.

It has been shown that Gailhaguet was aware of complaints of inappropriate behaviour against Beyer, but the skating federation said on Wednesday that he had “never heard” of these accusations.

“I’m an imperfect man but I’m a clean man,” he continued. “The federation is absolutely not a group of sexual perverts with a culture of rape”.

He added that the cloud of scandal enshrouding it has been “unleashed by the media to say the least” and denounced France’s sport minister for “moralising”.

‘We must see how to respond to this scourge’

Sports Minister Roxana Maracineanu on Monday called for Gailhaguet to resign, saying he "cannot absolve himself of his moral and personal responsibility".

But after a meeting at the federation's Paris headquarters on Tuesday, Gailhaguet said he would not make a decision on whether to step down until the investigation had concluded.

"I am a little speechless before this gentleman whom I met for an hour two days ago and who spent half the time defending himself," Maracineanu told French television.

"At no time did he say before me what his vision was with regard to this problem which affects his federation.

"We must see today how to respond to this scourge. If this gentleman is more interested by his job... it just strikes me as incredible."

Maracineanu, a former swimming world champion, does not have the power to sack Gailhaguet, but has intimated that the federation would face state sanctions if he remains.

Gailhaguet has been the most influential man in French ice skating since he first became president in 1998, some years after the alleged offences.

He has headed the federation ever since apart from a three-year hiatus between 2004 and 2007 which followed a judging scandal at the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City.

He was suspended by the International Skating Union for three years from 2002 and duly gave up, temporarily, the presidency of the French federation.

Gailhaguet's accession to the presidency opened the door for Abitbol's coach Gilles Beyer to take charge of the French national team.

A 2000 inquiry led the sports ministry to remove Beyer from his technical role at the federation, but he remained a coach at club level and held an executive position at the federation until 2018.

(FRANCE 24 with AFP)

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