Greek President praises Olympic medallist for breaking abuse silence


Greek President Katerina Sakellaropoulou welcomes Olympic sailing champion Sofia Bekatorou, following Bekatorou's statements on being sexually assaulted by a sports official in 1998, at the Presidential Palace in Athens, Greece, January 18, 2021. REUTERS/Alkis Konstantinidis/Pool

ATHENS (Reuters) - Greece's president praised Olympic sailing champion Sofia Bekatorou for dissolving "a conspiracy of silence" by reporting a historic allegation of sexual assault by a sports official.

Bekatorou, who won a gold medal in the 2004 Olympics, told the Greek edition of Marie Claire last month that she had suffered the abuse in 1998 when she was 21.

Greek President Katerina Sakellaropoulou, who met Bekatorou on Monday, said her courage offered hope to other women who had suffered similar abuse in their personal and professional lives.

"I hope her brave revelation will blow like a rushing wind and sweep any hypocrisy, any cover up attempt away," ," Sakellaropoulou said in a statement. "It is time to end the guilt of the victims and the impunity of the perpetrators."

Although Bekatorou has referred the case to a prosecutor, Greek law would bar any prosecution after so many years.

However, since she made the allegations, other Greek athletes have also come forward and more recent cases may emerge as a result of the investigation.

The comments from Sakellaropoulou echo leaders across the Greek political spectrum, from Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis to opposition leader Alexis Tspiras, who in a rare display of unity have all voiced support for Bekatorou.

They also add to growing pressure for more accountability from sporting federation officials, with Greek Deputy Sports Minister Lefteris Avgenakis saying on Sunday the government plans a bill allowing athletes to be represented on federation boards.

"We are determined to clean up this sector. The federation sector needs fresh oxygen," he said.

The allegation by Bekatorou, who has not publicly named the official, has also prompted the Greek sports ministry to call for an investigation.

Bekatorou last week told an online conference that she did not open up about her abuse at the time, five years before the 2004 Games in Athens, fearing that it would destroy her Olympic dream and divide the Greek sailing team.

"Years later, having two children and thinking that other children would be in my place, I found the courage to speak up."

(Reporting by Renee Maltezou; Editing by Alexander Smith)

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