Former French skating champion Abitbol 'relieved' as ex-coach Beyer charged with sex assault

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Sarah Abitbol, a 10-time French figure skating champion, expressed her relief on Saturday after her former coach Gilles Beyer was placed under formal investigation for sexual assault following accusations from at least six women skaters or former skaters.

Beyer is at the centre of a scandal that convulsed the sport in France last year after a Abitbol, a former world championships medallist, first made accusations against him in a book.

Abitbol accused Beyer, France's former elite figure skating coach, of repeatedly sexually assaulting her when she was aged between 15 and 17 in the early 1990s. Her book led to several other skaters coming forward.

In a statement to AFP in January last year, Beyer admitted having an "intimate relationship" with Abitbol, which he said was "inappropriate". He offered his "apologies".

Following these revelations, the Paris public prosecutor's office opened a preliminary investigation in early February into "rape and sexual assault of minors by a person in authority", aimed, in particular, at verifying other potential victims.

Among former skaters who came forward in the wake of Abitbol's book, "Un Si Long Silence", were Hélène Godard, Laure Detante and Najma Mahamoud, the French junior champion in 2014. They all accused Beyer in the press.

Beyer was taken into police custody on Wednesday morning but released Friday when he was charged by the Paris public prosecutor's office with "sexual assault by a person in authority and sexual harassment by a person in authority".

Contacted by AFP on Friday, Beyer's lawyer, Thibault de Montbrial, refused to comment.

A source close to the case told AFP that the cases of several women, minors at the time of the alleged events, could not be prosecuted under France's statute of limitations. These include the case of Abitbol.

The source said only more recent cases, involving six women who were adults at the time of the alleged events, can be pursued. Three of them have accused Beyer of sexual assault.

Flood of revelations

In the small world of French figure skating, Abitbol's book had led to a flood of revelations.

Other skaters have levelled accusations of sexual assault, sexual harassment or blackmail against other coaches or skating coaches.

>> Skating rape accusations ‘only the tip of the iceberg’ for French sport

Didier Gailhaguet, the president of the French Federation of Ice Sports (FFSG) for more than 20 years over two spells, was forced to resign, after a long arm wrestle with Sports Minister Roxana Maracineanu, in early February 2020.

An investigation launched by the Sport Ministry then revealed suspicions over 21 FFSG coaches, 12 of whom were accused of "acts of sexual harassment or assault".

Beyer's is not the first high-profile case involving underage athletes.

In 2017 and 2018, former US national gymnastics team doctor Larry Nassar received a series of sentences running from 40 to 175 years in prison after being tried for sexual assault under the guise of treatment of over 265 identified women, many of them former US Olympians, as well as for the possession of child pornography.

(FRANCE 24 with AFP)