A former world-class German high diver Jan Hempel says he was sexually abused by his coach for over a decade. The news has sparked fresh calls for more to be done to protect athletes from sexual predators.
"This disgusts me," said Karla Borger, president of the athlete advocacy organization Athleten Deutschland. Speaking on the sidelines of the European Championships in Munich, the 33-year-old beach volleyball player said she was shocked and that more needed to be done to get to the bottom of how such abuse was allowed to go unchecked.
Borger's words came in reaction to a documentary aired by the German public broadcaster ARD on Thursday in which former world-class high diver Jan Hempel revealed that he had been sexually abused from the age of 11 by his coach, Werner Langer, for a total of 14 years. Langer took his own life in 2001.
Hempel said the management of the German Swimming Association (DSV) had known about the abuse but did nothing to stop it. Specifically, he pointed the finger at Lutz Buschkow, who has been the head coach of the national diving team for the past 20 years.
"People who remain silent are protecting institutions and therefore the perpetrators," Maximilian Klein of Athleten Deutschland told DW.
"In part, they think their actions will avert further harm from those affected. Sometimes there are relationships of dependency or close networks of relationships that make those in the know feel powerless to come forward."
After Hempel's accusations were broadcast, the DSV announced that it had temporarily relieved national diving head coach Buschkow of his duties "until the final clarification of the facts." Buschkow had been with the German team at the European Swimming Championships in Rome.
Speaking to ARD, DSV President Marco Troll stressed however, that as in any such case the "presumption of innocence" applied until and unless proven otherwise.
"We have been shocked by this information, which we have heard about in this form for the first time," Troll said.
German diver Patrick Hausding, who has won one silver and two bronze medals at the four Olympic Games that he participated in, was highly critical of the DSV's treatment of Buschkow.
"You can't put the blame on him, that's not fair. He had no decision-making power at all," said Hausding, who retired from diving last May.
"He was a small cog in the system as a coach at that time." Hausding said he, too, was shocked when he read about Hempel's statements.
"The incidents are terrible; Jan Hempel needs to be heard. But I don't understand why he's only making this public 25 years later."
Another former diver, Heiko Meyer, Hempel's partner in synchronized diving for many years, said his friend had previously confided in him.
"I knew that this happened. But to what extent – that also shocked me," Meyer said. He added though, that Hempel had never revealed the details to him.
For Karla Borger, it is "high time" that the independent "Center for Safe Sport" proposed by Athleten Deutschland is established. It is meant to become an independent contact point that victims of sexual violence in sports can turn to – as well an advisory body for sports clubs.
"There is a need for "a kind of separation of powers with independent structures," added Maximilian Klein.
"Alone and on its own, sport cannot succeed in an effective fight against violence and abuse. There are too many conflicts of interest, dependencies, closed structures and family relationships in the system for that. Too often, action cannot or will not be taken, those affected are not believed. Tips go unheeded or consequences are inadequate.
Reports of sexual abuse in sports have come to light an many countries in recent years, including the scandals that have hitAmerican gymnastics or football in England, Afghanistan and Haiti.
"The culture of silence must be replaced by a culture of looking, recognizing and acting," Klein said. "It will take time before this is carried into the mainstream and therefore into the last gymnasium in the country. This requires long and painful development processes in (sports) clubs and associations."
Jan Hempel hopes that by telling his story, he has helped move the issue forward. "Something simply has to happen," he said.