Austria’s skiing federation (OSV) president warned on Sunday that allegations of sexual abuse by former skiers against a retired coach could hurt the current Olympic team in Pyeongchang.
If the allegations are proven, “an apology will clearly be necessary” Peter Schrocksnadel told Austrian public television ORF from South Korea, where the Winter Olympics are being held.
Schrocksnadel said he feared the impact the allegations could have on Austria’s women skiers.
“The only thing they can do is not read anything. They are 10,000 kilometres from home. They can free themselves from this story. It has nothing to do with them.”
The OSV has set up a committee to examine the alleged abuses that will have access to archives of internal disciplinary procedures.
“Every case, if proven, is of course very, very painful, but the evidence has to be put on the table, everything has to be fully clarified,” added Schrocksnadel, who has been OSV head since 1990.
According to the German newspaper Suddeutsche Zeitung, two unnamed women skiers have accused coach Charly Kahr of sexual abuse — one also said she had been raped. Kahr, a legendary former coach of the Austrian men’s and women’s Alpine skiing teams, is 85 and some of the alleged attacks occurred in the 1960s.
Kahr, a national hero nicknamed “Downhill Charly”, on Friday vehemently denied the claims through his lawyer, calling them “pure slander”.
In November, Nicola Werdenigg, a former Olympic skier who competed under her maiden name Spiess, said she was raped in the 1970s when she was 16 and that abuse and harassment were commonplace.
“If you didn’t want to play ball then your place (in the team) was in danger,” she told the Der Standard daily, adding that she was aware of a case of sexual assault as recent as 2005.
The prosecutor in Innsbruck has opened a preliminary inquiry into her accusations.
Other Austrian women skiers have told the press that there was a culture of sexual violence within the OSV in the 1970s.
But Schrocksnadel said he found it “suspicious” and “strange” that the accusations were published on the eve of an Olympics where the Austrians hope for numerous medals.
He said that following an overhaul in the skiing federation since 1990, he thought the risks of sexual misconduct are now “very, very small”.