“I don’t know how many times I woke up with his hand inside my underwear,” Petrix Barbosa, 26, a Pan-American champion who trained with Lopes for seven years, told local television station Globo.
“He would ask us about our development and say he had to monitor our growth to change the workouts. He would ask us to show him our penis, spy on us while we bathed. All this pressure on a boy of 10 or 11 years old,” he said.
Lopes denies raping or molesting any of his athletes and told the local press that he has a “clean conscience.”
This is not the first time Lopes has been accused of abuse. One month before Brazil hosted the Olympic Games, the Brazilian Gymnastics Confederation removed him as a national coach after he was accused of molesting two boys. Police are still investigating the case.
Brazil’s gymnasts follow hundreds of victims around the world who have spoken out about sexual abuse in the past six months. The allegations have engulfed one of the country’s most beloved Olympic sports in scandal.
On Monday, the club outside Sao Paulo where Lopes allegedly abused the athletes fired him in response to the allegations. Brazil’s Olympic Committee announced that it would create a sexual harassment hotline for athletes to report sexual abuse.
The scandal has also sparked a national debate about the relationship between sports and abuse. Since 1982, almost 300 coaches and officials in U.S. Olympic organizations, across 15 sports, have been publicly accused of sexual misconduct.
While abuse can happen in any environment, the intense training and traveling in professional sports create a sense of intimacy and privacy where abuse can flourish, said Cristiano Barreira, president of the Brazilian Sports Psychology Association.
“With professional athletes, in addition to the fear of the abuse, there is the fear of the impact on their career. It can significantly affect their self-esteem and view of their potential,” he said.
But global movements such as #Me Too can help victims recognize abusive behavior and come to terms with their experiences. “Collective movements empower them to see clearly that they are victims and avoid blaming themselves,” he said.
The chief prosecutor of Brazil’s labor court, which is working on the case, said he saw parallels between the U.S. and Brazilian cases.
“The sentencing in the United States showed the severity of verbal and sexual abuse in sports. The rise in the number of reports is worrying, but, on the other hand, authorities are better prepared to investigate and punish the perpetrators,” Gláucio Araújo de Oliveira said in an interview with local newspaper Estadao.
In the United States, Olympic gold medalist Aly Raisman, who accused Nassar of abusing her during trips abroad when she was 15, expressed her support for the Brazilian gymnasts.
“Devastated to hear about the many gymnasts in Brazil who have been abused. Survivors must be heard & justice must be served,” she tweeted.
Raisman is suing the U.S. Olympic Committee and USA Gymnastics for failing to prevent Nassar’s abuse.
Many Brazilians are similarly outraged at their country's governing sports bodies for allowing the abuse to continue silently for years. According to one victim, another coach on the team and a psychologist knew that athletes were being abused by Lopes but did nothing to stop it.
In a statement, the Brazilian Gymnastics Confederation said it would adopt urgent measures to address the accusations.
“No case of harassment or abuse will go without a rigorous investigation and eventual sanctions, if applicable,” the agency said.