Women accuse swimming coach of sexual abuse after nearly 40 years
Karishma Dipa, Sameer Naik and Norman Cloete
A prominent swimming coach stands accused of sexually assaulting girls as young as 10 years old from the time he was 13. Two women, who are now in their fifties, have opened a case of sexual assault at the Pinetown Police Station in Durban.
The women claimed they were sexually groomed by the swimming legend in the late 70s and early 80s. The man’s identity is known to Saturday Star but is being withheld to protect the identity of his alleged victims.
The women said their decision to accuse the man now was intended prevent him doing the same to other young girls.
“He has given me a life sentence, the damage he has done to me is everlasting,” said the one complainant. She was a member at the same Durban swimming club as the man.
His mother had been her coach.
“She promised to make me an Olympic champion and my mother was so excited by the prospect, that she jumped at the opportunity and decided to move our entire family against their will to Westville.”
She said the sexual abuse started with fondling and progressed to full sexual intercourse.
“He would threaten me that if I didn't do what he wanted his mother would kick me out of the squad,” the woman told the Saturday Star.
She said her ordeal lasted for about six years.
“He would tell me that I must prove that I liked him by putting his penis in my mouth and if I said no, he said he would tell his mother and that she would not coach me anymore.”
The woman said she tried to kill herself when she was 17 years old.
“No one wants to listen to me,” she said this week, “because he is adored by everyone.”
The second woman had a similar story to tell.
She said she too was coached by his mother several decades ago. She claims she was about 11 years old when the abuse began.
“At first, I was somewhat flattered by his attention because I was so young and I didn’t know any better and he was such a popular and handsome guy.”
“I was close friends with his sister so he was always around. He often lured me to quiet places and fiddled with my private parts,” she said.
“One day we were in the pool and he asked me if it (his penis) went in and I was so scared that I just said yes.”
The man responded to the allegations via his attorneys, Livingston Leandy in Umhlanga, Durban. Mohamed Mota, in an email to Saturday Star said: “Mr ...... has no knowledge of any allegations being made by 3 woman(sic) claiming they were sexually assaulted by Mr ..... as their coach. Your enquiry has no basis in fact and is denied. Publication of this allegation is unlawful and defamatory of our client’s good-name, standing and reputation.”
Luke Lamprecht, child protection and development specialist for Women and Men Against Child Abuse, assisted the women to lay charges against the man.
He said there was a third case still being investigated that could be added to the charge sheet in due course.
Saturday Star believes that this is not the first time complaints have been levelled against the coach and that in fact a report was drawn up into them. Yesterday, Swimming South Africa CEO, Shaun Adriaanse denied any knowledge of the existence of such a report.
“I know nothing and I as the CEO have received no complaint. Speak to the president of SwimSA,” he said in a telephonic interview with Saturday Star.
During the interview, Adriaanse accused a Saturday Star reporter of calling Swimming South Africa to offer a bribe for information.
“I was informed by a colleague that one of your reporters contacted our offices on Thursday night and offered a bribe for information,” said Adriaanse.
When pressed for the name of the reporter, Adriaanse had no comment. and said he would deny that he had ever spoken to Saturday Star.
“If I knew this was you calling, I would not have answered,” he said.
Saturday Star sent an email and WhatsApp message to Swimming South Africa president Allan Fritz but received no response.
Acting SASCOC CEO Ravi Govender said the body was unaware of the allegations against the coach, but would now investigate.
“Since this has not been brought to our attention, as SASCOC, we have a responsibility to check with our Member Federation as well. Further as SASCOC, we have policies and procedures (the Safeguarding policy), to be specific, in place and view this allegation in a very serious light,” he said.
The formal complaints with the police coincide with a new safeguarding initiative by legendary South African swimmer Penny Heyns.
The Olympic gold medallist has teamed up with several concerned parties to form the Sports Voice app, to encourage athletes from all sporting codes to report any form of abuse they might have encountered.
“We’ve seen momentum gathering since the Larry Nasser case in gymnastics in the United States and other high-profile abuse cases ranging from Afghanistan’s women soccer team to the unfortunate suicide of a South Korean Tri-athlete,” said Heyns.
“There have been cases popping up everywhere and, in some way, we’re sitting here at the southern tip of Africa thinking we’re okay. I think this shows us we're not okay.”
“While I cannot comment on this specific case, I think anybody who thinks this is the only situation like this in our sport and specific to my code would be ignorant.”
“Our society is toxic on such issues, so, of course that's going to spill over into sport. We owe it to the youth of today to give them a safe environment.”