#MeToo in Greece: Olympic gold winner speaks out over sexual harassment amidst political frictions

Sophia Bekatorou at the Athens 2004 Olympic Games
© Herbert Knosowski, Associated Press

Not many Greeks were familiar with the international #MeToo movement before Sofia Bekatorou broke her silence, last December. An Olympic, World and European sailing champion, Bekatorou (43) publicized her allegations for sexual abuse speaking firstly to a magazine and later to an online public event. She said that she was harassed from a senior member of Greece’s Sailing Federation (HSF) when she was 21. Immediately after her revelation and to the day, several other female and male athletes and public figures have stepped forward sharing their own traumatic experiences, including a case with a minor.

The first response of the Federation was considered by many as indifferent or even cynical. Instead of taking action to investigate the allegations, HSF published a press release, which stated that they had never received an official or unofficial complaint from her, wondering –with a sense of irony- why their athlete had waited so long. The HSF Chief, Antonios Dimitrakopoulos, raised the same question during a TV interview, expressing his doubts for the integrity of these allegations.

Bekatorou, who was accepted by the President of the Republic and the Prime Minister of Greece in tête-à-tête meetings, has already met with the Prosecutor and testified on the case. As new information become known, it gets clear that some members and medical staff of various sports federations have exploited their access to young athletes to approach them and eventually harass them. Similarly, Nikos Kaklamanakis, windsurfing Olympic gold medallist, has accused the federation of mob-style methods and financial mismanagement.

Sophia Bekatorou poses for Marie Claire
© Marie Claire, Greek edition

Apart from the sexual abuse, it seems that the case has a political dimension. The person accused by Bekatorou was a member of the ruling Nea Dimokratia (ND) party but he was removed after the outbreak of the scandal. Rumor has it that the government has seized the opportunity to gain control over the federations. Greek deputy sports minister, Lefteris Avgenakis, said that he plans a bill to change the structure of federation boards, allowing –among other provisions- athletes to be represented, too. His plan provoked reactions from some stakeholders and later Dimitrakopoulos implied that behind Bekatorou’s story unfolds the government’s power play. Meanwhile, some officials have already submitted their resignation in support of Bekatorou.

Bekatorou is now a symbol against sexual and power abuse by public officials. When asked why she did not open up about her experience back then, she said that she was scared. “Who would believe a 22 years old athlete against a member of any federation?” she wondered. She also said that the authoritarian style of the federation’s leading team had imposed silence over the athletes, putting her Olympic dream at stake. Today, having two children and thinking that other children would be in her place, she decided to stand up and speak, she added.

After years of silence, it is time for victims to stand up and claim justice. Sports federations in Greece run by a fraction of politically engaged individuals, who hold the office for many years and eventually become a regime. The recent allegations voice the will of the athletes to bring substantial change and put an end to abuse of all kinds. Simultaneously, sexual assault allegations have to be evaluated on a case-by-case basis, since it is about a criminal act, and therefore it must be evaluated objectively. We have a lot of work yet to do but at least the glass wall has broken.