SPORTING SEXUAL ABUSE SCANDAL

Police believe abuse claims against gymnastics coach are “verified”

Jesús Carballo accused of carrying out sexual assaults while in charge of Spain team

Allegations of sexual assault against former Spain national gymnastics team coach Jesús Carballo have sent shockwaves through Spanish sport. Carballo, 69, led the national female team for more than 30 years and retained a post as a coach at the High Performance Center in Madrid until January, when the federation removed him and banned him from the complex. Carballo’s lawyers issued a denial of all allegations on Sunday and have challenged the decision of the federation, which is headed by his son Jesús Carballo Jr.

The police consider the alleged events “verified” but cannot charge Carballo with any crime unless further allegations come to light. Sexual abuse against minors has a statute of limitation of 20 years from the time the victim reaches adulthood under Spanish law. The alleged abuse took place when Carballo was in his thirties.

In a statement to police in December, a 48-year-old former member of the national team detailed the sexual abuse she suffered at the hands of Carballo between the ages of 12 and 15, which included penetration, and took place “during training, in hotels where the team stayed, and even in the car of the accused,” the police report said.

Another member of the team at that time, who roomed with the complainant, backed her statement. “We were staying at a hotel before the Moscow Olympics. Practically every night Fillo [as Carballo is known in the gymnastics world] would come to the room. That night, like many others, he gave me a massage to loosen my back. Later I heard him in the other bed. I froze and pretended to be asleep. It was so traumatic that we never talked about it among ourselves,” she told EL PAÍS by telephone.

He would come to the room practically every night before the Moscow Olympics"

Not all the gymnasts suffered abuse, only the “chosen ones,” according to those that have come forward, to whom the police give complete credibility as witnesses. “He had incredible psychology. He knew exactly who he could do things to and who he couldn’t. He had a great ability to subject us to his will,” says the former Olympian, now 47.

When he took charge of the team, Carballo placed a wall between the boys and the girls, who previously had trained together. “The atmosphere was strange among us. Some were obsessed with Carballo and would compete to be by his side. He was a master of manipulation. We all had complete trust in him. It was an atmosphere of disproportionate love and genuine fear,” says another former gymnast.

Investigators have taken statements from dozens of people, including present and former members of the national set-up. “Many [...] did not want to give a statement or did not want to become involved for fear of reprisals in the workplace by identifying Jesús Carballo as the person who monopolized the world of artistic gymnastics,” reads a police report. A Madrid criminal court shelved the case as the alleged crimes had prescribed and there was no evidence of other charges.

The Madrid regional High Court is to decide whether to pursue charges against Carballo after suits launched by the former gymnast and Spain’s Higher Sports Council (CSD).

The decision to go to the authorities was made last year when former team members met at a reunion. “After that meeting we realized we weren’t the only victims and that generations of gymnasts had suffered his abuse. We were in panic. We thought it might still be going on and so we went to the CSD for help. We only took that step when we felt united and ready psychologically. We just want to heal and to let Fillo know that his actions did us a lot of damage when we were only children.”

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