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Nicola Spiess-Werdenigg. Image from Wikimedia Commons
this story is part of the 27 Nov-1 Dec 2017 Weekly Hindsight Read the hindsight

Austrian Ski Association in the 1970s -- When rape was commonplace 

Christine Tragler recommended by Christine Tragler Der Standard, Austria

It’s been difficult to look forward the joys of winter, lately. The subject of sexual violence continues to dominate headlines, as two ex-professional skiers share stories of abuse dating back to the 1970s.

Austria Lessons learned

Why this story matters:

stop violence

It is shocking to read what former ski racing champion Nicola Werdenigg and another athlete told 'Der Standard'. Back in the 1970s, both of them faced numerous attacks from male “colleagues”, ranging from sexual harassment to rape.

The ex-champion, who out of consideration for her family does not want to be named, thus recalls the circumstances of the assault:

"We were overseas when one day I was walking across the hall of our hotel, in broad daylight, and all of a sudden a door opened and a man pulled me inside a room.

He turned out to be one of the coaches and said that it was my turn today. There was another man in the room. Both of them were drunk. They threw me on the bed. It was very brutal.”

She tried to ward off the attack and almost broke her hand. When it was over, she locked herself in a bathroom and waited for the men to disappear. Werdenigg described this situation as "normal" back then. "True," agreed her colleague, "we were fair game for abuse."

The President of the Austrian Ski Association, Peter Schröcksnadel, declared that he had never heard of such cases. "The times certainly were different back then," he commented.

“Eradicating rape culture requires not only ‘time’, as Schröcksnadel suggests, but consistent intervention and hard work," 'Der Standard' journalist Petra Stuiber wrote in a blog entry.

The Ski Association isn’t the only environment that needs reform. Stuiber recalls the cases of sexual violence in Catholic boarding schools and orphanages in Vienna. Like the professional skiing industry, they are "closed systems where a handful of men hold absolute power," she explains.

How can we change it? Following the scandal, Schröcksnadel announced a much needed reform: "The association has to face its past and there is no room for evasion", commented Stuiber. It seems that the next step should be abolishing the statute of limitation for such crimes.

Details from the story:

  • In an interview with Der Standard, former Austrian World Cup runner, Nicola Werdenigg, shared her experiences of sexual violence in the professional skiing industry, in the 1970s.
  • Another former Olympic skier, who prefers to remain anonymous, confirmed that, back then, female champions were facing sexism and the abuse of power on a daily basis.
  • The President of the Austrian Ski Association, Peter Schröcksnadel, claimed that he was unaware of the problem.

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