SAO PAULO (Reuters) - A sexual abuse scandal is engulfing Brazilian gymnastics this week as a former national coach has come under investigation for allegedly abusing dozens of boys.
The scandal in Brazil follows the sentencing of former USA Gymnastics team doctor Larry Nassar to up to 300 years in prison for abusing more than 250 young female gymnasts entrusted to his care.
Fernando de Carvalho Lopes, who trained one-time floor world champion and Olympic silver medalist Diego Hypolito, was accused in a report by Brazil’s TV Globo of sexually abusing dozens of young male gymnasts while training them at his club near Sao Paulo in the past two decades.
Lopes told Globo he was innocent. A lawyer for Lopes, Luis Ricardo Davanzo, did not respond to requests for comment on Thursday. Lopes was not immediately reachable for comment.
Globo said it spoke with 40 current or former gymnasts who said they had been abused by Lopes. Another athlete accused him of abuse in an interview on Wednesday night with the network.
Police confirmed an investigation into Lopes, but told Reuters the case was sealed and they could not give details. Brazil’s national gymnastics confederation did not respond to a request for comment.
Hypolito told TV Globo he had no problems with the coach. But former team mate Petrix Barbosa, winner of a gold medal in the all-round team event at the Pan American Games in 2011, said he was abused.
“I don’t know how many times I woke up with his hand inside my trousers,” Barbosa told Globo.
Several other athletes told similar tales of abuse and harassment, Globo said, without disclosing their identity.
Lopes told Globo he was a “rigorous” coach who believed he could be a friend or a father to his charges and that, he said, could have led to “misinterpretations.”
“When it comes to these kind of accusations I don’t have anything to say,” he said. “I think they are going to have to prove it.”
He was removed as national coach just a month before Brazil hosted the 2016 Olympics, after he was accused that year of abusing two boys aged 12 and 13, according to Globo. The network spoke with the boys’ parents, who confirmed the allegations.
Lopes also coached the MESC team in Sao Bernardo do Campo, just outside Sao Paulo. MESC said they shifted him to an administrative post after the 2016 allegation and removed him on Monday.
Reporting by Andrew Downie and Brad Brooks; Editing by Richard Chang