Didier Gailhaguet, the ‘little Napoleon’ of figure skating: Who is behind French sex abuse scandal?
Dubbed the ‘little Napoleon’ for his unbending will and imperious temper, Gailhaguet has been running the post of the French Federation of Ice Sports (FFSG) since 1998 becoming one of the most powerful figures in the sport nationally.
READ MORE: Skating scandal: French authorities open investigation into underage sex abuse claims in figure skating
Last week, four French female skaters came forward to accuse three coaches of abuse and rape when they were minors. One of the alleged victims to suffer at the hands of her former coach is world bronze medalist Sarah Abitbol, who claimed that she was raped by Gilles Beyer when she was between the ages of 15 and 17.
Beyer, who is now 62 admitted to having “intimate” and “inappropriate” relations with the former skater promting French prosecutors to open an investigation into underage sex abuse within the field of figure skating.
Shocking revelations by female athletes who claimed to have been systematically abused by coaches raised a serious question of whether France’s figure skating bosses were aware of the crimes committed right under their noses.
On Monday, French Sports Minister Roxana Maracineanu asked Gailhaguet to resign making it clear that she finds him responsible for the sex scandal.
“He is a manipulator. If we win, it is thanks to him, if we lose, we are at fault because we didn't listen to him,” this is how Olympic champion ice dancer Gwendal Peizerat described Gailhaguet. “To oppose him is to become persona non grata,” he added.
The Minister of Sports, Roxana Maracineanu, has asked Didier Gailhaguet to resign from his position & announced a withdrawal of the state delegation from the FFSG (it sounds like a decertification/defunding of the FFSG but I'm not familiar with the term) #SkatingSurvivorshttps://t.co/q1TtcYuo8I— Naa 🔜 Worlds (@LiftLoopLunge) February 3, 2020
The irremovable boss of French figure skating was implicated in a huge row at the Salt Lake Olympics in 2002 after a French judge Marie-Reine Le Gougne admitted to having badly judged the pairs competition acting on the instructions of Gailhaguet.
The scandal which forced the International Skating Union (ISU) to change the judging system didn’t prevent Gailhaguet from being re-elected as the FFSG head the same year.
“He is politically very strong when he is in the campaign, he is fully invested. When he wants something, he gets it. Some people vote for him because they are afraid that another president will be less invested,” said Véronique Guyon who coached world champion Brian Joubert.
Gailhaguet hasn’t yet commented on the scandal that undermined the sport’s credibility, but many athletes, including Sophie Moniotte, vice-world champion in ice dancing, insist he was aware of the criminal actions directed against the underage skaters.
“Of course he was aware of this” she said. “I take my hat off to Roxana Maracineanu: I was surprised and happy to hear that she asked for his resignation.”
It remains unknown whether ‘little Napoleon’ will leave his seemingly unshakable position, but one thing is clear the scandal has inflicted irreparable damage to the sport which has recently been the nation’s pride.
In the wake of the sex row, further allegations of underage sexual abuse emerged from former swimmers and tennis players who shed light on the dark side of sport in France which had remained hidden for years.