A prosecutor in Greece ordered a preliminary inquiry on Wednesday into allegations of sexual harassment of young athletes by coaches in the sport of gymnastics.
The move follows a letter gymnasts sent to President of the Republic, Katerina Sakellaropoulou.
The probe is being launched against a backdrop of similar reports and lawsuits involving actors, directors and the country’s sailing federation.
A total of 22 athletes, from younger to more experienced, wrote to the President to express the hope she would intervene against “the molestation on underage athletes – both girls and boys.”
The letter alleged “harsh and abusive” practices dating back to 1985 included forced fasting, psychological and physical punishment and sexual harassment.
“For the first time, a cry of protest by a large number of gymnastics athletes about psychological and physical abuse is expressed en masse,” the athletes’ lawyer, Alexandros Adamidis told Greek daily Efimerida ton Syntakton.
The letter said coaches would slap, kick, shove and throw objects at athletes during training, even dragging some girls by the hair.
On occasion, coaches would remove protective mats, causing injuries. Some of the athletes were also forced to train while injured, the letter says.
Disciplinary measures allegedly included forcing athletes to train in extreme temperatures and denying them bathroom breaks.
Because of strict weight requirements, some athletes starved themselves to the point of fainting, and resorted to secretly eating toothpaste and food leftovers scavenged from hotel trash bins, it said.
Allegations rock Greece’s gymnastics federation
Prosecutor Apostolos Andreou has been ordered to investigate the claims by chief prosecutor Sotiria Papageorgakopoulou.
President of the Hellenic Gymnastics Federation, Thanasis Stathopoulos, said that the Federation “stands by the athletes who made the allegations and we will contribute in every way to make the truth shine.”
He promised the Federation will investigate the alleged incidents so “that gymnastics remain ‘clean’, away from any form of violence or abusive behavior.”
Gymnastics have given Greece “Olympic medals and many more successes, raising our sports and their representatives to the highest level of appreciation and recognition by Greek fans,” Stathopoulos added.
Allegations of sexual harassment in Greece
Greece in recent months has been rocked by a wave of allegations of sexual abuse in the fields of arts, sport and education.
More than three years after the #MeToo movement surfaced in the United States, the code of silence in Greece was broken in December by a two-time Olympic sailing medallist, Sofia Bekatorou.
Bekatorou said that when she was 21 she was subjected to “sexual harassment and abuse,” including rape, by a senior federation member in his hotel room, shortly after trials for the 2000 Sydney Olympics.