“When it broke, I expected that the Union would react somehow. But in vain,” says the father of the former representative cadet in table tennis towards the courtroom.
His daughter was one of the players who two years ago filed charges of sexual harassment against their former coach Michal L.
Today, the fifty-six-year-old coach stands before the court as a defendant, he rejects the statements of the former trainees, and the parents of the senate girls describe the difficulty of the situation they found themselves in when their daughters confided in them about the coach’s behavior.
“The chairman of the Table Tennis Association was humanly unable to grasp it, and the vice-chairman was on the coach’s side from the beginning. They trivialized and belittled everything,” Father Martin Kapoun evaluated the immediate reaction of the table tennis officials to the serious accusation. The court summoned him as a witness.
Players: We had to dance in our underwear
- List The News reported on the case of table tennis coach Michal L. in July of last year.
- The players described how the coach sexually harassed them in 2012. Everything broke at the European Championship in Austria, when the players in the cadet category were 14 and 15 years old.
- The players said that the coach made a number of sexually suggestive comments towards them, wanted them to dance in front of him in their underwear and invited one of them to watch porn together. However, they also talked about massages, when the coach touched the private parts of the then fourteen-year-old player.
- The coach denied everything in court. He said he did not have any hints, he did not ask the players to dance or watch porn, and according to him, the massages were purely professional. The girls are said to have invented everything to harm him and the executive committee of the Table Tennis Association.
The Hradec Králové court is dealing with the indictment of a former coach for sexual abuse of a child under the age of fifteen, but the context of the case is unraveling during the main trial – for example, how the executive committee of the Czech Table Tennis Association reacted to the players’ announcement.
This Monday, he invited two of their fathers as witnesses, and the vice-chairman of the table tennis executive committee also testified as a witness. The fathers told the court that the officials deliberately swept the case under the carpet, did not respond to the allegations made by the girls. And that they wanted them not to mediate the case.
“I expected some action from the union. That they would investigate and discuss it themselves and that they would stop the coach in question from coaching, but nothing happened,” testified father Michal Kapoun. He then said about the vice-chairman of the union, Nikolas Endal, that “no support could be expected from him”.
Nikolas Endal confirmed his position on the serious allegations. He told the court that it was just some vague sexual talk and that he had little recollection of the ten-year-old incident.
“I don’t remember much, but if I’m not mistaken, it was only ambiguous hints, nothing concrete,” he said. “The coach denied it at the time, it was an allegation against an allegation and we are not the judges or the police to investigate it,” he said further, describing why the association did not deal more significantly with the suspicion of sexual violence a decade ago.
“We discussed the filing of a criminal complaint at the union, we consulted with lawyers, but in the end we decided that Mr. Kapoun should file it if he wants,” said the vice president of the union.
Even after ten years and the results of the investigation that brought the coach to court, Endal is convinced that the management of the union did everything they could at the time.
“We removed him from the position of national team coach,” he said in court.
In reality, however, the current defendant Michal L.’s contract ended after the European Championship in 2012 and he no longer applied for its extension. He continued to train at his club in Hradec Králové, where he later even became the head coach of the Youth Sports Center.
Father Martin Kapoun did not file a criminal complaint either. “A well-known police officer talked me out of it. He thought the police would put it off because there was no evidence,” he told the court.
However, he appealed to the union to look into the case. He exchanged several letters and emails with the executive committee. And only when no action came from the officials, he acted alone.
“I followed my line. I printed a flyer in which I wrote what happened to the girls, how the coach talked to them, and I distributed it at tournaments and matches. So that at least everyone knows what Michal L really is,” said Martin Kapoun in court.
At that time, he was not the only one who wanted to solve the case of sexual harassment by the coach. Michal Hájek, the former national team coach of the junior girls, also joined in, repeatedly asking the executive committee whether they were taking the statements of the players seriously.
“Their main priority is supposed to be protecting the kids, but instead they protected the coach. Warnings about sexual attacks were ignored, trivialized and thrown under the table,” said Michal Hájek in an interview for Seznam Zprávy.
The criminal complaint was filed eight years later by Michal L.’s former wards. They say they have learned the coach’s inappropriate behavior continues at his home club.
Their words were confirmed by one of the players who trained in the years 2014-1019 at the Youth Center in Hradec Králové Seznam Zprávám. She stated that it was not just sexual innuendo, but that the coach wanted to film her playing in her underwear or asked her to dance for him as well. The girl says she refused both times and incurred the coach’s wrath.
The accused coach also denied this in court. “It’s revenge and a power struggle. Someone wants to use this case to liquidate the club where I worked, to dismiss the executive committee of the Czech Table Tennis Association and settle their accounts,” says the coach, to whom the public prosecutor proposed a sentence of 2 to 2.5 years in prison with a two to three-year suspended sentence and a ban on coaching youth for two to three years.
The process will continue in the coming months. Zbyněk Špaček, the chairman of the executive committee of the Czech Table Tennis Association, is called as a witness