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Former French skater ‘relieved’ after ex-coach charged with sexual assault

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France’s Sarah Abitbol and Stephane Bernabis perform during the pairs free skating program, 22 January 2003 at the European Figure Skating Championships in Malmo, southern Sweden. AFP

Paris, France (AFP) – Former French skater Sarah Abitbol spoke of her relief on Saturday after her ex-coach Gilles Beyer was charged with sexual assault.

Beyer was charged on Friday following accusations from at least six women skaters or former skaters, although a source close to the case told AFP older cases, including that of Abitbol, could not be prosecuted under France’s statute of limitations.

Abitbol told French magazine l’Obs she was “relieved that the courts have summoned Gilles Beyer. Finally!”

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

Abitbol wrote Beyer repeatedly sexually assaulted her when she was aged between 15 and 17 in the early 1990s. Her book led to several other skaters coming forward.

Beyer was taken into police custody on Wednesday morning but was released on 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”.

Abitbol, however, said she was disappointed that the charges were not more severe due to the statute of limitations under French law.

“I see that the charges are ‘assault’ and ‘harassment’. I suffered rape,” she said.

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

A source close to the case told AFP that 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.

In the small world of French figure skating, Abitbol’s book “Un Si Long Silence” 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.

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”.

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