Sexual abuse on Austrian ski slopes

A former Austrian ski champion speaks out about her time in competitive sports -- a story about pedophilia, violence and shame.

Christine Tragler
Christine Tragler Der Standard, Austria
Source: Der Standard
Sexual abuse on Austrian ski slopes - NewsMavens
Nicola Speiss. Wikicommons

Why this story matters:

As a teenager, Nicola Werdenigg made her debut in the Ski World Cup. It was the 1970s: abuse of power was widely tolerated, and violence was swept under the table. There were no hashtags, no way to say MeToo. Now the former Austrian ski champion speaks out about her time in competitive sports -- a story about pedophilia, rape and guilt.

A teammate raped her when she was 16. The perpetrator and another man had given her large quantities of alcohol. Out of shame, she kept quiet about the incident and blamed herself for the attack.

Even more worrisome: Werdenigg says that the situation for women in competitive skiing has not changed since then. She adds:

"I can talk about the experience. More than that, I have to. To give young people the strength to speak up if it happens to them. Victims must be able to trust society to defend them. Everybody can get into a situation where they are defenseless. There's no weakness, no shame about that. I am not ashamed."

Petra Kronberger, Olympic champion and women's representative of the Austrian Ski Federation, commented on Werdenigg's statements:

"It's a very disturbing and shocking story. It takes great courage to go public -- it's important that Nicola Werdenigg has taken that step."

The Austrian Ministry of Sports is currently running an information campaign entitled "For Respect and Security -- Against Sexual Abuse in Sports". Austria is also one of eight countries participating in the EU project "Voice", which aims to raise awareness of sexual violence in sports.

Details from the story:

  • Nicola Werdenigg comes from a Tyrolean ski family. She finished fourth in the Olympic descent in 1976. In 1975, she was crowned Austrian champion.
  • Werdenigg left the sport world in 1981. She is now a ski trainer.
  • In an interview with Der Standard, the Austrian downhill champion from 1975 denounces rape and pedophilia during her time in competitive sports. 
  • According to a German study, one out of every three women athletes is confronted with a form of sexual violence at least once, and one in nine experiences severe sexual violence.
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