A claim by Greek sailing gold medalist Sofia Bekatorou she was sexually assaulted in 1998 by a Hellenic Sailing Federation (HSF) official has brought an outpouring of support for her and led to other women making similar allegations against sports officials, doctors and academics in the country.
She first revealed to the magazine Marie Claire what was called a “lewd act,” but when she repeated it during an online conference organized by the Greek Ministry of Culture and Sports the story exploded across the country.
She said it took 23 years for her to reveal what she said happened because she was afraid for her career and didn’t want to divide the team. The story pulled back the cover on an open secret in Greece of men in positions of power preying on women.
She declined to name the official initially but then did so to a prosecutor, accusing HFC Vice-President Aristeidis Adamopoulos, who denied the allegations but resigned, after the federation pushed him to step aside.
The accusations were “false, defamatory and deceitful,” he said in a letter to the committee, The New York Times reported.
Bekatorou, who won gold at the Athens 2004 Olympic games and bronze in Beijing in 2008, is one of Greece’s most prominent and popular athletes and her story brought accusations against other sports officials, doctors and academics.
It also began a movement called #metiSofia (with Sofia) a variation of the #MeToo platform that has seen women report stories about being sexually abused by men.
What Bekatorou revealed “prompted a wave of support and an unusually open debate in a country where studies suggest sexual harassment is prevalent,” but women are afraid to report it, the paper said.
“I hope … that other women and people who have experienced sex abuse will come forward, so that our society will be more healthy, and we’ll no longer be afraid,” Bekatorou told reporters outside the prosecutor’s office.
Several other female athletes have stepped forward since Bekatorou’s revelation, while nearly a dozen other women have alleged sexual harassment by professors at Thessaloniki’s Aristotle University.
The 43-year-old mother of two said she was 21 when she was subjected to “sexual harassment and abuse” in the official’s hotel room after trials for the 2000 Sydney Olympics.
“In this period, I achieved most of my country’s distinctions in sailing but have lost the most precious value of my personality: loving myself,” Bekatorou said.
“It’s an extremely important moment,” Vasiliki Petousi, a sociologist who is head of gender research at the University of Crete told the Times.
“A popular, accomplished woman telling a story that can happen to any girl at any time – it’s hugely symbolic and can drive change,” she said.
The Hellenic Olympic Committee has also called for an internal investigation, inviting Adamopoulos, who represented Greek sailing, and Bekatorou to testify.
He was suspended from his position in Greece’s ruling New Democracy Party after Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis spoke with Bekatorou and gave her his support.
“It is time to uproot the violence of those in power against anyone in a weak position,” Mitsotakis said in a Facebook post.
“Sofia bravely broke the chain of fear and silence,” Mitsotakis wrote on Twitter earlier. “Let’s all take that first step taken by Sofia: We talk, we condemn, we reveal,” he said,
President Katerina Sakellaropoulou, the first woman to hold that position in Greece, said Bekatorou “dissolved a conspiracy of silence.”
Many victims do not speak out, Sakellaropoulou said after meeting Bekatorou, “because they know that in the best-case scenario they will face pity or mistrust and in the worst case contempt, derision, even social stigma.”
“In her person I’ve encountered all those women who have been abused either verbally or physically,” said Sakellaropoulou. “I hope her brave revelation will blow like a rushing wind and sweep any hypocrisy, any cover-up attempt, away.”
In Cyprus, Commonwealth Games and World Cup shooting champion Andri Eleftheriou said she was sexually assaulted by a sports official in 2006, where she won a gold medal, and at the Olympic Games in Beijing in 2008.
Mania Bikof, a retired Greek water polo player said she had been forced to strip to the waist so a doctor could examine a shoulder injury, and the former swimming champion Rabea Iatridou said she had been groped by a medic.
Male athletes have said athletes knew what was going on. Nikos Kaklamanakis, another Olympic gold medalist, said that sailing federation officials threatened young athletes to stay quiet about alleged abuses.
The Greek Supreme Court urged prosecutors to make responding to the claims a priority and an investigation into Bekatorou’s claim has been undertaken although the statute of limitations has expired and it can’t go to court.