Former Polish national coach charged in sexual abuse scandal

Investigation into allegations of rape and financial malpractice moves forward

A former Polish Cycling Federation (PZKol) national team coach has been indicted after an 11-month investigation into sexual abuse allegations.

Andrzej P. [Polish laws prohibit publishing full names before a ruling - ed], a former sports director in the Polish Cycling Federation, was arrested on October 29 and detained for three months following a motion filed to court by Warsaw's regional prosecutor office.

Andrzej P. worked in the Polish Cycling Federation for the past two decades, most notably coaching the national MTB team, leading it to numerous victories over the years, including an Olympic silver medal in 2008. He also served as the federation's sports director, simultaneously running trade MTB teams and managing the same riders both in and outside of the federation.

According to the official statement, he faces charges related to offences against sexual freedom and morality. As later reported by the TVN24 station, he has been charged with three counts of rape and one count of attempted rape.

The investigation, which spanned the 2010-2017 period, began with allegations of financial wrongdoings in the PZKol, and has been expanded to possible acts of corruption, abuse of power and failure to perform duties by federation officials.

The scandal came to the fore in 2017 when the sports website Sportowe Fakty broke the story of an audit into the federation's finances that revealed a number of problems inside the PZKol. Former federation vice president Piotr Kosmala disclosed the details of an investigation that had been ordered by former president Dariusz Banaszek and federation's then-sponsor, CCC owner Dariusz Milek, but then abruptly halted.

Banaszek was accused of mishandling the crisis, stopping the audit and not acting upon its preliminary results, which included witness testimony of sexual abuse. The auditor reported the case to the Ministry, which passed it onto the regional prosecutor's office. In the media storm that followed, sponsors pulled out and minister Witold Banka demanded the resignation of the PZKol board.

Banka also ordered an extensive audit of federation's finances, as Poland's Ministry of Sport and Tourism gave nearly 3.7 million euro to the PZKol in 2017 alone. The government suspended payments to the federation, deepening a financial crisis sparked in part from debts from construction on the Pruszkow velodrome that will host the UCI Track World Championships in 2019.

The developments in the case of Andrzej P. change little as far as the embattled federation is concerned. Bringing charges against a former coach suggests that the prosecutor's office feels confident it gathered compelling evidence of wrongdoing. However, the investigation itself is not over – two official statements stress that sexual abuse is just one of the threads in a complex probe into the past of PZKol.

Banaszek stepped down in January 2018 and the federation's board appointed Janusz Pozak as the new president in February in hopes to square things with the Ministry. Talks followed and while governmental funding slowly returned, the federation still faces debt proceeding and a difficult search for new sponsors.

Some programmes and the national team, primarily its young riders and those awarded scholarships, remain financed by the Ministry directly or through proxies. However, since the scandal broke the federation's administrative and strategic pillars have almost completely collapsed, leaving little hope for riders desperately trying to continue preparations Tokyo 2020 Olympics on the highest level.

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