SAO PAULO (AP) — A community center fired a former coach of the Brazilian national gymnastics team Monday after a news report revealed that dozens of athletes he worked with have accused him of sexual abuse.
Reporters for the “Fantastico” news show on Globo TV spoke to 40 gymnasts and former gymnasts who said Fernando de Carvalho Lopes had abused them while they were minors, including watching them shower, touching their genitals and asking them to masturbate in front of him. The Sao Paulo state Security Department confirmed police are investigating but would not provide any more details because the case is under judicial seal.
Clube MESC, a community center with several sports programs in an industrial city outside Sao Paulo, said if fired Lopez after the report aired Sunday night. The club said that it had put Lopes on administrative duty two years ago when the first accusations against him emerged and that he had not had any contact with athletes since then. The club said that since the case is under seal, it did not know the extent of the accusations until the Sunday report.
Lopes denied the accusations in an interview with Globo, saying he never raped or molested anyone. Neither Lopes nor a lawyer for him responded to requests for comment from The Associated Press.
The allegations recall the U.S. case of former sports doctor Larry Nassar, who admitted to molesting some of the United States’ top gymnasts, including while he worked at USA Gymnastics and Michigan State University. More than 260 women and girls have said Nassar abused them.
In its report, “Fantastico” said the first accusation against Lopes came in July 2016, when a 13-year-old whom Lopes coached told his parents he was being abused. The accusation resulted in Lopes being fired from Brazil’s gymnastics coaching staff, a month ahead of the Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro. Others then came forward.
“Fantastico” recorded interviews with five people who worked with Lopes, including two who agreed to be identified by name. One of those, Petrix Barbosa, said the abuse started when he was 10 or 11.
“I woke up with him — I don’t know how many times — with his hand down my pants,” said Barbosa, who was a gold medalist at the Pan American Games in 2011.
The accusers to whom “Fantastico” spoke said the abuse happened in the showers and the sauna at Clube MESC, during training sessions and also on trips with the coach. The accusers said he touched or asked to see their genitals claiming he needed to understand how their bodies were developing during puberty in order to adapt their training. One accuser said he bought a curtain for the shower at Clube MESC to prevent Lopes from watching him and others shower, but the curtain disappeared the next day. He bought another and it disappeared, too, he said.
It was unclear how far back the oldest accusation dates, but the Clube MESC said Lopes had worked there for 20 years. It said it had never received a complaint against him.
Joanna Maranhao, a Brazilian swimmer who has participated in four Olympics and who alleged she was sexually abused by another coach when she was 9, said Brazilian sporting associations are beginning to address the issue but she hopes more will be done.
“This man, I really hope he pays for the crimes he committed,” said Maranhao, whose own case was never prosecuted because of the statute of limitations.