Perhaps we like our scandals a bit too much, but however that may be, we think 2008 has been a stellar year for coaching scandals.
The first scandal to be reported (albeit sketchily) was that surrounding Holland's Esther Heijnen, who used to coach both Verona van de Leur and Suzanne Harmes. Half a year ago, Heijnen was fired by her club following allegations by some of her lesser-known gymnasts that she had ignored them in favor of her more famous stars and encouraged them to develop eating disorders. Harmes and Van de Leur stood by Heijnen, who later got a job at a newly established club, taking Harmes with her. It's unclear whether the case resulted in any legal steps being taken, but it was obviously a very acrimonious affair.
Then, across the Atlantic, Ivana Hong did her damnedest to ruin Al Fong's already checkered career. That story is still ongoing, and we're following it with great interest.
Now the Brazilian gymnastics world is reeling from a coaching scandal involving three of the country's most famous female gymnasts: Jade Barbosa, Daiane dos Santos, and Laís Souza.
Jade Barbosa (photo: Reuters)
According to Gymblog Brasil, Barbosa, Dos Santos, and Souza claimed after the Olympics that the coaches at the national training center in Curitiba had forced them to train until they were exhausted and ignored their medical complaints.
Jade Barbosa's father and agent, Cesar Barbosa, confirmed at the beginning of September that his daughter was injured when she competed in Beijing. She was suffering from an injury to her right hand, osteonecrosis, which prevented her from completely flexing and extending her fingers. According to the Brazilian newspaper, Diario de Sao Paulo, Mr Barbosa was considering suing the Brazilian Gymnastics Federation for letting his daughter compete with a serious injury.
Daiane dos Santos and Laís Souza then went on record as supporting Barbosa's allegations, saying that they too had been nursing injuries when taking part in the Olympics. Moreover, they disclosed that the athletes' daily calorie intake at the national training center had not exceeded 800, a ridiculously low amount for athletes who train several hours a day.
Daiane dos Santos
Following an investigation by UOL Esporte (an online sports magazine) last month, two former gymnasts, Roberta Monari and Maíra dos Santos Silva, stepped forward to join in the chorus. They claimed that not only had their injuries been ignored at Curitiba, but they had been forbidden to drink water during training and been humiliated by the coaches. Dos Santos Silva claimed that she had suffered ill treatment and humiliation at the hands of the national team coaches, as well as at the hands of the supervisor of the Brazilian Gymnastics Federation, Ms. Eliane Martins.
Last Thursday, Ms. Martins herself allegedly told the Diario de Sao Paulo that she would sue the girls for defamation and that they would have to back up their claims in court. "It's easy to say things," Martins was quoted as saying by the newspaper. "We'll see how well these claims stand up when the girls are called to justice."
According to the Diario article, the Federation's lawsuit would only involve the three gymnasts who had said they weren't fit enough to compete in Beijing. "We won't say whether it's true or not," Martins was quoted as saying. "We only want evidence. It's a legal process and we're not going to discuss it in the media."
The next day, Daiane dos Santos and Laís Souza downplayed the threat of being sued by Martins. The two athletes said they didn't believe the Federation would take the case to court. Furthermore, they didn't think their own statements had been particularly offensive.
Laís Souza said it was perfectly obvious that she wasn't in great shape at the time of the Olympics, as she had just had surgery a few weeks previously to remove cartilage from her knee.
"I don't see why she [Eliane Martins] should adopt this attitude," said Souza. "All athletes compete injured. I often say that the day I wake up without feeling any pain is the day I'm dead. I competed with an injury and I was aware of it. I wasn't accusing anyone. Now if she chooses to take it that way and sue me, that's her choice, but I'm sure the case won't go anywhere," said Souza.
Lais Souza (photo: Reuters)
For her part, Daiane dos Santos said that she could easily prove that she was injured at the time of the Olympics. Dos Santos underwent surgery at the end of last month. She had an osteotomy to correct deformities in her spine. It was her third such operation.
When contacted by UOL Esporte, Daiane dos Santos's lawyer said he attached no importance to Eliane Martins's threats. "I doubt she can win a case like this. If the Federation wants to sue Daiane, they'll have to prove she wasn't injured. It's the Federation who will have to present evidence, not Daiane," said Dos Santos's lawyer.
By now the Brazilian Gymnastics Federation has denied that it plans to sue Barbosa, Souza, and Dos Santos. In an official statement released in the Diario de Sao Paulo last Saturday, the Federation denies that Eliane Martins ever threatened to sue any gymnasts or former gymnasts. The Federation's statement reads as follows: "By means of this statement, the Brazilian Gymnastics Federation wishes to declare publicly that the information released by certain media last Friday (November 7, 2008) regarding the gymnasts Jade Barbosa, Daiane dos Santos, and Laís Souza is incorrect. Eliane Martins never mentioned that she would sue the above-mentioned athletes in the interview granted last Thursday (November 6, 2008) to the Diario de Sao Paulo, which has now been reprinted by other media. The Federation has not taken legal action against any gymnast or former gymnast, nor does it intend to do so."
It's still an awful lot of bad press for the Brazilian Gymnastics Federation.