“You will only speak the truth. If you say anything but the truth, it can have dire consequences.”
Petra Witges, 31, sits behind a table in a small room in Neugen. She was nervous before being summoned, but those words made her feel even more anxious. Setup does not help. Space is tight, everyone sits close to each other. She couldn’t help but think that he was there all of a sudden. Where should it have been? close to it?
She wants to talk about this guy, her former coach Vincent Weavers. Mainly about his behaviour. About the physical and mental damage he caused. With her, but also with other women trained by him. Who do not want to come to the fore. Or they simply haven’t “opened the door” yet to their traumatic past, Witges says. She did. And so she ended up facing the four-member Disciplinary Committee of the Institute of Sports Law (ISR) this evening.
“As soon as I was sitting there, I again felt like that little kid being called to the floor,” Witges says. “Just as before.” Of course she was going to tell the truth, but why was she so openly spoken to? And why did it matter so much to her. Have you encouraged other gymnasts to advance? Have you checked that the certificates match? “I had to stand up for myself, the person who exhibited undesirable behaviour.”
The hearing in the disciplinary case against the most famous gymnastics coach in the Netherlands took place on Monday (March 21st). Weavers Sports Coach of the Year 2016 was absent. For “medical reasons,” NOS reported. He said before that he does not recognize himself in everything he is accused of. Without telling us how things are going according to him.
For Wittjes, who trained under the Wevers at his then club TON in Oldenzaal between the ages of 10 and 17, the session was another disappointment in the wake of what has become known as the gymnastics crisis, a streak of revelations since the summer of 2020 about cross-border behavior by famous players and Dutch gymnastics coaches. least known.
The woman sitting next to Whitges was disappointed, too: Raffaella Pedotti, 27, one of the “rotten apples of the bunch,” as Weavers called her at the age of 10 when she trained under him. “I’ve been off for years and still find it hard to defend myself,” Pedotti said earlier. Norwegian Refugee Council† “Why does my opinion matter?”
She was also at the hearing in March. Not as a witness, but as an alleged reporter. She said she was a concerned deputy when the commission questioned Witges. “I was shocked”. Later in the conversation, she said, “I am convinced that athletes no longer need to be silent, but I am not sure if I would advise others to follow the disciplinary path.”
Witges: “If you wait for what we tested…”
Former gymnasts went through difficult periods in the more than a year and a half that the Weavers case was going on. So many bad nights, so much anxiety. Witges could not work for long. Pedotti was forced to interrupt her training in applied child psychology for six months.
They say that once you open the door to flashbacks, you can no longer ignore the trauma. “I pretended he hadn’t been there for ten years,” Pedotti says. Witges: “The more you open up about it, the closer you get to the core and the more you start to feel the pain of the past.”
However, they hope to start the case. It was in 2020, when they hit the official road. They should be with the ISR, the victims were told. Witges makes a formal report in August, Pedotti more than a month later. They do it separately. They had no contact with each other then, as now.
They are not the only ones reporting. The Intelligence and Homeland Security Service, which acts as a judicial (disciplinary) body on behalf of 76 sports organizations, has spoken with more than two hundred potential victims and reporters since the revelations. For example, 25 trainers became the subject of research. This resulted in five disciplinary cases, which eventually resulted in three acquittals and two conditional arrests.
After their report, Witjes and Bidotti were invited for a one-on-one interview with the researcher. This is where it all began, as they say.
Pedotti: “The first thing I heard was: ‘Tell me.’ Then I got an error. In my head go from hot to here. Where should you start?”
Memories flash in their minds. Pedotti thought of all the insults. Weavers asked the other girls not to talk to her, for she was as contagious as a rotten apple.
Witges wondered what exactly the researcher wanted to hear. Was she ignored for weeks, verbally abused, forced to endure physical aggression or did she put on weight again while the features of her slender figure exploded? “But they asked about my parents. Did they do nothing? The researcher said it wasn’t all bad, there were positive stories as well. I felt like I had to stand up for myself and things were underestimated.”
A conversation report was then sent to both Pedotti and Witges in which they did not recognize themselves. The Intelligence and Security Service said they could meet again or rewrite their report. They chose the latter. Witjes’ face became fifteen, full of descriptions of accidents which she was not yet able to recount. And I thought this should be enough for the ISR.
Other emails they received also failed. For example, parts of their coach’s defense were sent, asking if they wanted to respond to them. Only: one gymnast sent lanes that were intended for another. vice versa.
The Intelligence and Internal Security Service also sent them an email containing the names of all the notifiers. Witges: “Panic, of course. There was also a report from someone who had serious suspicions that she was still in close contact with Vincent. What matters: you want to create a safe environment.”
In the fall of 2021, a year after their reports, the women will be invited by the ISR for an online meeting. For this purpose, they are informed of the upcoming hearing in the Weavers case. Women have many questions. What interview reports are already included in the file? Can they see the file?
No, it turns out. They were told that the reporters are not an official party to the case, although their statements form the basis for this. File access is not included. eggs. “While it comes to our youth, eh.”
The session was postponed several times. Once the time is up, a disappointing announcement follows: Women are not allowed to take anyone with them. No family. Not even the victim support employee they called. The press is also not welcome
At the request of the attorney general, who wants to provide witnesses, Witges decided that she would tell her story in Neugen. It has already done so during the roundtable discussion in the House of Representatives. The prosecutor said the disciplinary committee could hear my story. So I expected questions about facts and incidents that appear in my interview report. But there were no questions about Vincent’s behavior. It was about my role as the champion in the group.”
Pedotti: “You feel misunderstood.”
They can expect the verdict from next week. It was not disclosed what the allegation against Wivers is. Earlier this week, two gymnastics coaches were acquitted. According to the disciplinary committee, there was not enough evidence.
Witges: ‘I would find it strange that they would say that too now. Since they hardly asked any questions about the content, I suppose everything is clear to them.”
Pedotti: I had the feeling sometimes that they don’t always understand what this is doing to you until they talk about it. The right questions weren’t asked.”
Witges: “On the other hand, it made people think. Society has opened its eyes more to the infringing behavior. More and more sports are following too. Gymnastics is the pioneer. It’s just that we use training materials within the system.”
Pedotti: ‘What we’ve been through is not okay. We hope that people will listen better to others to whom something like this has happened.”
A version of this article also appeared in NRC Handelsblad on April 23, 2022