*Content warning: This story is about sexual harassment and assault. It may contain graphic descriptions and strong language, and may be confronting and disturbing.
Olympic sailing champion Sofia Bekatorou accused Aristidis Adamopoulos, then and now a federation Vice-President, of sexually assaulting her in 1998 during preparations for the Sydney Games.
After being reviewed by prosecutors, the case was thrown out as the statute of limitations has passed.
Sofia Bekatorou said the male official from the Hellenic Sailing Federation performed a “lewd act” after inviting her to his hotel room to discuss team preparations.
The athlete was 21 at the time. Bekatorou said she had made it clear that the act was not consensual, adding that she was left feeling “humiliated.”
In her testimony, the Olympic champion had referred to two other female athletes who were verbally harassed and the rape of a female athlete by her coach when she was 11 years old. The coach is now in pre-trial detention.
What the Olympian had said in her testimony:
Today I testified about my personal case and I hope that on this occasion, other women will come out to speak, but also other people who have experienced sexual abuse, so that our society can be healthier and not be afraid.
The effort that we started with the complaints of Nikos Kaklamanakis in the Parliament and the gathering that we made with all the athletes, we hope that they will help in the consolidation of the Greek Sports.
Sofia Bekatorou speaking at an online conference organised by the Ministry of Culture and Sport titled “Start to Talk – Break the Silence – Speak, Do Not Tolerate”:
I never imagined that in sports I would face violence, let alone sexual violence. As a sailor, from a very young age, I traveled without my parents in the presence of my fellow athletes and the coach.
I have hardened, I have learned to endure the pain, the difficult weather conditions and the loneliness of the championship, but I have also learned to be independent, to face the problems I have with courage, to support my teammates and to fight for the values and the my ideals.
When I decided to aim for distinction at the Olympics, and in particular the gold medal, I knew that in all areas that my sport requires, I should clearly excel.
I had to break the boundaries and performance that existed, so that there is not even the possibility of close competition. For this reason, together with my teammate Emilia Tsoulfa and our coach Elias Mylonas, we designed a program with long hours of training, in and out of the sea with the men’s team, and participation in a large number of games, to gain the right experiences.
We were 100% committed to this goal. One big obstacle we always had to face, paradoxically, was our federation itself.
The atmosphere of cooperation with the national authority was becoming more and more suffocating, when before each mission, we essentially had to negotiate the financial support we were entitled to receive. Federation officials, depending on their interests and likes, treated the athletes differently.
Having learned from an early age to express my opinion, to believe in justice and meritocracy, I found it difficult to develop a constructive relationship with the federation.
I did not like that we had to use policy methods to gain their support and that the people we spoke to had no specialization in our field so they did not understand either our problems or our needs. It was clear that there was no strategic planning aimed at distinguishing the country in the long run.
Fortunately, for eight years we had at our side two people who fought for our rights, the presidents of our groups, Mr. Pavlidis and Mr. Karageorgiou.
When X* appeared in some meetings as the new head of the national team and X treated us warmly with friendliness and humor, we were encouraged. The communication that was created with our team and X was always in the context of the preparation for the games, the financial support from the federation and the purchase of equipment.
The usual suffocating negotiation through X became a process less psychologically detrimental to our goal, at least we thought so.
In 1998, our country claimed qualification for the Sydney Olympics. In the same year we had the first two big international successes with Emilia Tsoulfa’s bronze medal in world and European championship.
In qualifying for the Olympics, although we usually did not have representatives of the federation at the Games, “someone” would come as we were informed. After the latest developments we wished it was X, who created a pleasant and supportive atmosphere that was important for achieving our goals.
Although we did not manage to get a medal in the qualification, nevertheless with the fifth place that we and the men’s team took we qualified for the Olympics. X was as excited as our team.
We celebrated the qualification with dinner and then the six of us returned, in pairs, to our hotel. X and I left last. On the way to the hotel we talked about the struggles and the difficulties. For me it would be the first Olympic participation and as I was the youngest of the team (21), my joy was unspeakable.
At some point as I was talking to X, he kissed me. I froze, I did not know how to react, I never expected him to make such a move. For me, X represented the paternal model, he was a man who finally did not fight us in the federation and wanted our good, I thought.
I continued to move faster now, pretending that I did not understand what had happened, although I told him that I had never expected such a move from him. Arriving at our hotel in the elevator before going to his room he asked me to follow him. I refused and went to close the door.
He always politely and with a smile asked me if I was afraid of him and I replied no, but that there was no reason to go to his room together. Trying to convince me, he assured me that he was not going to do anything erotic just to talk.
But he knew how to talk to me and how to calm me down and make me drop my defenses. And when that happened, he started harassing me. I tried to push him away, to show him that there is no mutual desire, believing that he would respect it.
I told him no, I repeated to him that I did not want to go ahead and he with fake sweets said that it is nothing but jokes. He said he would stop if I did not want to, but he did not stop whatever I told him. Crying and ashamed, I left the room when he finished and got up from above me.
I returned to my room where my fellow athlete was sleeping unsuspectingly. I took a bath, I felt dirty, exhausted, humiliated and unable to defend my rights. While we had just acquired the right to dream with Emilia, if I told anyone what happened to me, it might collapse. I could not manage this feeling and I could not share it with my team because it might have divided us.
Our team, which included the men’s team, was always on a thin rope of balance and there were no strong ties that could make me speak openly. And our coach was 25 years old, quite emotional and inexperienced in crisis management.
Also back then we did not have any collaboration with a sports psychologist and of course I would never talk to my parents, because they would stop me from sailing.
I cried a lot and when I woke up I started a show that ended a while ago. With a lot of work, treatment and analysis I managed to take on the burden of my responsibility, not to speak then, in order to remove this factor outside of sports countries.
He took advantage of our team’s weakness, knowing that there was not much cohesion and strength, his institutional position, to satisfy his sick instinct.
X never repented or changed the way he worked.
With the change in my attitude and coldness, he became ironic and generally questioned my abilities and performance at every possible opportunity, saying that younger athletes should have more opportunities and not those whose careers are in the west. He adopted this mentality from 1999 to 2019. During this time I have achieved the most distinctions for our country in sailing, but having lost the most important asset as a personality: the love for myself!
*X refers to Aristidis Adamopoulos.
A recent survey conducted by Prorata found that 7 out of 10 women in Greece have been victim of sexual harassment or abuse.
This took place at work (58%), on the street (53%) in a house (35%), in an entertainment facility (30%), at school or university (28%) and on social media (23%).
Moreover, an overwhelming majority (87%) said that it is not “easy” or “not particular easy” for a victim to find justice.
The survey took place from January 22-24, with a sample of 1,115 people.
Additionally, 83% of respondents said said that a victim publicly denounces such an abuse “to prevent similar incidents in the future.” 55% believe that it aims “to punish the perpetrator” and 50% “to open a public debate.”