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Swim world rocked by child abuse scandal

Meritxell Mir · 21 Dec 2011, 11:48

Published: 21 Dec 2011 13:24 GMT+01:00
Updated: 21 Dec 2011 11:48 GMT+01:00

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Switzerland's swimming communmity is in a state of shock after the president of the Bellinzona swimming club partially admitted to allegations of child abuse spanning more than 30 years.

Flavio B., 69, a well-known figure in the Swiss swimming world for decades, as been in a Ticino jail since December 16th.

According to Il Corriere del Ticino, at least 20 minors are believed to have fallen victim to his abuses from the 1970s until recently. Police began investigating after one of his alleged victims reported the matter last month.

During a ten-hour interrogation session, Flavio B. admitted to having had homosexual relationships with boys aged 12 to 16 years, but said that the intercourse always took place without violence.

Most of the sexual encounters are thought to have taken place at training camps, reported newspaper La Regione Ticino.

The allegations have left the Swiss swimming world reeling. Flavio B. was perceived as a charming, confident man with a very strong personality. Unmarried and with no children, it appeared he had dedicated his life to training others to swim at the highest level.

But some acquaintances said they had noticed a more shadowy side to his character.

"He was constantly surrounded by his gang of swimmers, overwhelmingly male. Most were introverted, had no friends and loved him as a father,” former swimming champion Stefan Volery told newspaper Le Matin.

“They formed a kind of cult, and they seemed submissive,” said Volery, who spent up to 100 days per year with Flavio B.

"For fifteen years, I noticed his abuses of authority and the ambiguous relationship he had with some of his swimmers," said former world champion Dano Halsall to the French-language paper.

Flavio B. coached athletes who won several medals in international competitions, including three Olympics Games.

A career covering nearly nearly five decades of seeming devotion to the water sport saw him nominated for the 2009 World Open Water Swimming Man of the Year award.

The alleged abuser also served as a judge at every World Championship and European Championship since 1999. He combined his attendance at top-level races with teaching work at secondary schools and the Bellinzona swimming club he directed.

Meritxell Mir (news@thelocal.ch)

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