ATHENS – Olympic sailing champion Sofia Bekatorou’s claim she suffered a “lewd act” from a Hellenic Sailing Federation (HSF) official is rocking the group and drawing praise for her speaking out 23 years after the alleged incident.
She said was 21 when it happened and while she made the claim during an online conference and didn’t initially name who she said assaulted her, the HSF’s Vice Chairman Aristides Adamopoulos resigned.
Some reports indicated it was a case of rape but the details haven’t been fully revealed although the case brought shock and led to her being supported by Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis and President Katerina Sakellaropoulou.
Sakellaropoulou expressed her support to Bekatorou for “breaking the silence” in Greece regarding the sexual abuse of women and a prosecutor asked her to make a deposition although the alleged crime can’t go to court because the statute of limitations has expired.
In a feature, CNN reported on the outcry after the revelation and as other athletes came forward to make similar complaints of lewdness and other sexually-related claims against sport officials.
"It is expected that complaints against me made by a public figure, of great recognition and wide social impact, will gather public interest, create feelings of compassion for the complainant and disgust for the alleged 'perpetrator,'" said Adamopoulos in a statement as he called for due process.
Later, in a statement posted on the Hellenic Olympic Committee (HOC) website, Adamopoulos said Bekatorou's accusation was "false and defamatory,” as he defended himself.
"Nevertheless, I fully understand that due to the extensive negative publicity of the matter, it is very likely there will be damage to the status of the Hellenic Olympic Committee, which must always remain high for the good of Greek sport," said Adamopoulos.
"For this reason alone and fully aware of my responsibility towards the HOC, I declare that from today and until the full clarification of this case by the authorities I will abstain from meetings of the HOC bodies which I am a member and I will generally abstain from the exercise of my duties from any position I hold."
Bekatorou said the alleged assault took place in 1998 during preparations for the Sydney Olympics, that were held two years later. In 2004, she was the flag bearer for Greece at the Athens Olympic games.
One of Greece's best-known female athletes, Bekatorou won a sailing gold medal at her country’s games and bronze at the 2008 Beijing Olympics.
Now 43, Bekatorou said a male official performed a "lewd act" after inviting her to his hotel room to discuss preparations ahead of the Sydney Olympics. The athlete said the act was not consensual.
She made the allegation at an online event organized by the Ministry of Culture and Sports about the protection of children in sport and said she now wanted to talk about her traumatic experience so young athletes wouldn’t be afraid to speak out.
in the hope that young athletes would not be afraid to speak out.
"I said no, I repeated that I didn't want to go on and he used fake sweet talk and said it is nothing and trying to be funny," said Bekatorou.
"He said he would stop if I didn't want it but he didn't, no matter what I said to him. Crying and feeling ashamed I left the room when he finished and removed himself from me,” she added.
The federation at first said it had never previously received a formal or informal complaint from Bekatorou, urging her to be specific about what allegedly happened and that the alleged sexual violence was an "unpleasant incident.”
That drew furor from athletes, politicians, and senior public figures describing it as a disgrace and led the HSF to do a quick turnaround to try to save face after a barrage of fierce criticism.
"In order to preserve the prestige of the Federation, the honor and reputation of all athletes, coaches and actors in the sport and to facilitate the investigation for which the final decision is made by Justice, we immediately requested and received the resignation of Vice-Chairman of the Board Aristides Adamopoulos," said the HSF.
Another former sailing champion, Marina Psychogyiou, in a Facebook post alleges sexual harassment from an HSF official in the early 1990s, and retired high jumper Niki Bakogianni, a silver medalist at the Atlanta Olympics, posted a message recounting an incident of sexual harassment from an official of her sports federation that allegedly took place over two decades ago.
The fallout led the Stavros Niarchos Foundation to suspend funding to the agency over the federation’s mishandling of its response.
The decision concerns a grant for the support of its sailing training program for disabled athletes. SNF said the aim is not “to penalize" the direct beneficiaries “but to protect them,” as well as the employees of the Federation, reported Kathimerini.
“SNF selects its grantee organizations placing high priority to the ethos and the character of their people, as well as to their effective administration and sound management,” SNF said in a letter to the President of the Hellenic Sailing Federation (EIO).
“Any suspicion of scandal concerning the operation of an organization and the behavior of its executives raises critical questions about the organization's ability to do its work, therefore cannot and should not be ignored,” it added.