Dozens of male Brazilian gymnasts have accused their former coach of sexually abusing them, including touching their genitals and asking them to masturbate in front of him, charges he has denied.
“I was woken up more than once by his hand down my pants,” national team gymnast Petrix Barbosa, 26, told the Globo TV show “Fantastico” about his coach Fernando de Carvalho Lopes. Barbosa was one of the few gymnasts who allowed his name to be used. He now lives in the Miami and won a gold medal at the 2011 Pan-American Games.
Lopes was removed as national team coach prior to the 2016 Rio Olympics after a parent complained. Lopes told Globo that he never molested anyone and has “a clear conscience.” But the station interviewed 42 former and current male gymnasts who said he abused them when they were minors
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.
The gymnast who first reported abuse in 2016 that caused Lopes to losing his Olympic coaching job was only 13 and he came forward after hearing stories from other gymnasts.
The boy was present when some older male gymnasts reportedly said: “Guys, let’s get ready over there because Fernando will want to look at our penis to see if there’s hair growing on our ball sack so he can increase our training intensity.”
Lopes lost his job coaching a club gymnastics club after the “Fantastico” report aired this weekend and local authorities are conducting an investigation into the allegations.
In the U.S., all of the attention has been on women’s gymnastics, where former U.S. team doctor Larry Nassar has been sued by 300 women who say he abused them. The revelations in Brazil show that it’s not only female athletes who are at risk from predatory coaches.