Forty male gymnasts in Brazil have come forward and said that gymnastics coach Fernando de Carvalho Lopes sexually abused them during their careers, according to a report that aired on aired on Brazilian television Sunday night.
Most of the victims did not wish to be identified. But one of the the victims who decided to go public is Pétrix Barbosa, a member of the team that won the gold at the 2011 Pan American Games. He said that Lopes began abusing him when he was approximately 10 years old and a student at Clube MESC in Sao Paulo.
“I woke up with him — I don’t know how many times — with his hand down my pants,” Barbosa said.
The gymnasts told Globo TV that the abuse happened all over MESC—in the shower and sauna, and during training sessions. One former gymnast said he repeatedly purchased shower curtains so that Lopes’s view would be obstructed, but those curtains kept disappearing.
They also claimed they were abused on the road for competitions. The athletes said that Lopes would ask to see their genitals so he could determine the training load their developing bodies could endure.
According to Globo TV’s report, rumors had been circulating for years about Lopes’ abuse of minor gymnasts. In fact, it was the gymnasts joking amongst themselves that prompted a 13-year-old boy to lodge the first accusation against Lopes. 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, hm?”
This upset the young gymnast, which prompted one of the gymnasts to take him aside to talk. This is when he admitted he had been sexually abused by Lopes. An assistant coach overheard that conversation and reported it to the boy’s parents.
Clube MESC fired Lopes after Sunday night’s report aired but noted that he had been on administrative duty and has not any athlete contact since the summer of 2016 when the first abuse allegations were made by the young boy. This is also when Lopes was removed from the coaching staff of the Brazilian national team—right before the Rio Olympics.
But the case against Lopes didn’t seem to go any further, at least not publicly. He wasn’t arrested and he continued to work at his club in Sao Paulo. MESC has claimed that they hadn’t received any reports of abuse during the two decades Lopes worked at the gym.
Since the Globo report aired on Sunday night, Diego Hypolito, two-time world floor champion and 2016 Olympic silver medalist on floor exercise, came forward to talk about the hazing and other abuses he endured as a young gymnast. He said that the coaches in his previous club had been aware of what was happening but didn’t intervene.
Hypolito—whose sister Daniele is one of Brazil’s all-time greats on the women’s side—had been coached by Lopes from 2014-2016 but said he wasn’t abused by him. He started training with Lopes in his 20s, well beyond the age group that Lopes appeared to have groomed and targeted. Hypolito credited Barbosa and the other gymnasts who spoke to Globo for their willingness to speak out.