Relief at skating chief Gailhaguet’s ‘necessary’ resignation

National Sports

French Ice Skating Federation (FFSG) president Didier Gailhaguet speaks to the media during a press conference in Paris, Wednesday, Feb. 5, 2020. Gailhaguet faces media questioning after refusing to resign, despite being asked to by Sports Minister Roxana Maracineanu after figure skater Sarah Abitbol and another skaters accused their former coach Gilles Beyer of rape when they were teenagers. (AP Photo/Francois Mori)

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PARIS (AP) — After the long-serving head of France’s skating federation resigned Saturday, amid suspicions that he covered up for a coach accused of rape and sexual abuse by former figure skaters, one of the coach’s accusers spoke of her relief.

Ten-time French champion Sarah Abitbol said she was raped by skating coach Gilles Beyer from 1990-1992, when she was a teen.

The skating federation’s president Didier Gailhaguet, who denied protecting the coach and said he’s not at fault, faced mounting pressure to step down from France’s current sports minister Roxana Maracineanu and others asking him to resign. He finally did so Saturday following a special meeting at the federation.

“Didier Gailhaguet’s resignation was necessary, but it’s only a first step,” Abitbol told French magazine L’Obs. “The whole of the federation where he has his friends must be cleaned up. Those who kept quiet, and supported the system (in place), are still there.”

Maracineanu also spoke of it as being a “first step” and says the government is “analyzing the dysfunctions which allowed serious doings to take place inside the federation.”

Gailhaguet has maintained he was never aware that Abitbol had been abused by Beyer.

He continued to blame a former sports minister, Marie-George Buffet, for allowing Beyer to continue working regularly in skating circles. He added that nobody at the federation was aware of alleged wrongdoing by Beyer.

Speaking in Paris after he had resigned, Gailhaguet said “out of the need for appeasement I have taken … the wise decision to resign from my position as president of the federation.” It was not immediately known who would replace him as FFSG president.

Paris prosecutors opened a criminal investigation this week after Abitbol accused Beyer. Two other former skaters have also accused Beyer, and denounced a lack of support from the federation.

The accusations led to calls for Gailhaguet to resign, led by Maracineanu, because Beyer was allowed to continue having roles at the French skating federation until 2018. This was despite having been let go by the French sports ministry in 2001 following a report highlighting repeated “serious acts” committed against young skaters.

The Associated Press does not normally name sexual assault victims. But Abitbol accused Beyer in a book published last week and has also spoken about her personal experience on television.

Gailhaguet served a first term as FFSG president 1998-2004 and started his second stint in 2007. Four members of the FFSG’s executive office, including a treasurer, resigned on Tuesday night.

Maracineanu had met with Gailhaguet on Monday and asked him to resign, saying he “cannot absolve himself of his moral and personal responsibility.”

He defiantly said he would not, and then hit back at Maracineanu in virulent terms when holding a news conference on Wednesday, during which he again said he would not immediately resign.

After finally stepping aside on Saturday, he took another swipe at Maracineanu, maintaining his view that she was making him “a sacrificial victim” for the wrongdoing of others.

Gailhaguet blamed Buffet, who was the sports minister in 2001, saying she allowed Beyer to continue working despite evidence against him.

However, Gailhaguet was in charge of the skating federation when Beyer was named France’s team leader during the 2011 Junior World Championships held in Gangneung, South Korea. Gailhaguet said it was “probably through naivety or trust” that he allowed Beyer to be given that role, given serious allegations against him previously.

Gailhaguet was pressed on Wednesday as to whether he spoke to parents of the junior skaters involved in the 2011 worlds, out of a responsibility to warn them about Beyer, but he said he did not.

Former European and world ice dance champion Olivier Schoenfelder said it was “inevitable” that Gailhaguet should resign.

“It’s a big step forward in trying to resolve the problem at the French (skating) federation,” he told Franceinfo radio station. “We know a bit about his way of operating. I think that if he resigned it’s really that he had to. Obviously he’s still taking the same line, he’s clearing himself of his responsibilities.”


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Angela Charlton contributed to this report.

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