February 9, 2018 / 5:09 PM / 8 months ago

Austrian Ski Federation to investigate new sexual abuse allegations

VIENNA (Reuters) - The Austrian Ski Federation (OSV) said on Friday it would look into new allegations of historical sexual abuse in the sport, part of a wider investigation into accusations of sexual misconduct by coaches, supervisors and athletes going back decades.

An OSV spokeswoman said the investigation would examine allegations cited on Friday by the German newspaper Sueddeutsche Zeitung from two anonymous female skiers who said they were raped or sexually harassed in the 1960s and 1970s by former Austrian coach Karl “Charly” Kahr.

A lawyer for Kahr, now 85 and still a well-known figure in Austria, said his client denied all the allegations and would take legal action against his accusers when their identity became known.

“My client says this is completely made up. These incidents never happened,” Kahr’s lawyer Manfred Ainedter said on ORF radio of the German newspaper report.

Reuters could not immediately reach Ainedter for further comment.

The OSV said it had already set up an expert commission to deal with a series of allegations related to historical sexual abuse in Austrian skiing and said it would present the findings to the public in the summer.

The commission will also now examine the Kahr case, the spokeswoman said.

Allegations of systematic abuse by coaches, supervisors and athletes in Austrian skiing first emerged publicly late last year with former Olympic skier Nicola Werdenigg saying that she was raped when she was 16 by a male team colleague.

Werdenigg, the 1975 Austrian downhill champion, did not reveal the name of her alleged attacker, but she told ORF radio on Friday that it was not Kahr.

The OSV spokeswoman said Werdenigg has been invited to give evidence in the investigation.

WINTER OLYMPICS

On Friday the 2018 Winter Olympics opened in South Korea, and the OSV spokeswoman said the federation hoped the issue of historical sexual abuse would not affect the focus of Austrian athletes taking part in the Games, which run until Feb. 25.

Asked whether the OSV was concerned about how all the allegations might affect the sport in Austria or harm the image of the OSV, she said: “The focus is fully on the Winter Olympic Games.”

Asked by Reuters to comment on the latest allegations, a spokesman for Austrian Sports Minister Heinz-Christian Strache said: “This was 60 years ago, but of course everything must be cleared up.” He declined to comment on the Kahr case.

Strache is also vice chancellor and leader of the junior party in the governing coalition, the far-right Freedom Party.

Sexual abuse scandals have become a major issue in a number of countries over the past year, spreading from the world of entertainment to sport, politics and business.

On Feb. 5, former USA Gymnastics doctor Larry Nassar was sentenced to an additional 40 to 125 years in prison for molesting young female gymnasts, capping weeks of testimony from nearly 200 victims about his decades of abuse.

Reporting By Shadia Nasralla; Editing by Gareth Jones and Kevin Liffey

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