Trainer rejects abuse claims, backed by one of his athletes, her parents
Youth advocates who examined the conduct of an athletics coach say that most of the hallmarks of abuse are present in the case, its chief investigator says.
The trainer, Mehis Viru, who was hit by a ban on coaching this week, maintained his innocence via a formal statement, and was also backed by one of his athlete trainees and her parents, the latter calling foul play in a smear campaign they say is directed both against Viru and against their child.
Remo Perli, chief investigator at the he national anti-sports doping body, hereinafter referred to by its Estonian abbreviation, the EADSE, told ETV morning show "Terevisioon" Thursday that when materials were being assembled which pointed towards potential unethical conduct on Viru's part, these materials were also given to child protection experts, to evaluate.
"They confirmed that, yes, all these features [of abuse] are present here, and, based on this information, the athletics association had to make a decision, and obviously could not have failed to act," Perli said.
The initial investigation started last August after members of delegations from other competing nations at the World Athletics U20 Championships in Cali, Colombia noticed what they alleged to be "inappropriate behavior". This was also reported by other Estonian coaches and two parents of two different athletes competing. One of the parents attended the competition themselves, the other heard the allegations from their child.
Athletes who had been trained under Viru's tutelage in the past were also questioned, Perli said, and some of these agreed to give statements. The period in question dates back to 2005.
Mehis Viru's official statement
Following the news of his ban, Mehis Viru made a full statement published Wednesday, rebutting the allegations, which is as follows.
"I confirm that as a trainer, and as a person, I have behaved in an exemplary manner and with due care for my trainees. I have not knowingly acted in a way that could be considered in any way to exceed the boundaries of best practices, or which would give reason to consider the action a violation of the trainers' code of ethics. I have at no time ever conducted an inappropriate relationship with any student, nor have I ever physically abused any athlete."
"The decision made by the Estonian Athletics Association (EKJL) against me has come as a shock. Regrettably, neither throughout the entire investigation nor also today, have I been presented with any document that would permit me to get acquainted with the charges made and the content of the decision in more detail, so it is very difficult to comment on the decision in more detail at present, and I can only share my views with you."
"My goal as a coach has always been to help athletes realize their natural talents at elite sports level, and guide them to the pinnacle of the athletics world. As a coach, I have prioritized the well-being of all athletes, so that they can focus only on achieving their personal best. I can only apologize if my benevolent attitude has been misinterpreted."
"We made agreements with [high jumper] Karmen Bruus' parents when we started her training, to ensure Karmen's well-being and safety both during training and competitions. I made use of these agreements at the World Junior Championships in Cali as well. It was thanks to the mutual understanding and strong cooperation of the young athlete, her parents and coaches, that Karmen was able to realize her potential this year – by becoming junior world champion."
"I am of the firm opinion that in the case of such serious accusations, as made public today, an objective investigation and a properly conducted process to find out the truth of the matter is of the utmost importance. Until now, I have fully supported the purposeful activities of the Estonian Athletics Association (EKJL) and the EADSE and hoped for a clear, comprehensible and transparent procedure to go ahead, with my full cooperation."
"Unfortunately, this whole process has been cloaked in secrecy and anonymity, which with it brought the impression that I had already been prejudged, and a decision had been made. I don't know if this process is motivated by any individuals' human envy, or even [EKJL chief] Erich Teigamägi's personal grudge over criticism of EKJL's funding, made to the press years ago. This suspicion of malice is heightened by the fact that I learned about the submission of statements to the EKJL via the media, who had already received confirmation from the EKJL. In addition, during the entire process, even after repeated inquiries, I have been kept in confusion as to what procedure will be carried out in relation to me, and on what grounds, and what violations of the coach's code of ethics I will be charged with."
"The past few months have been very difficult for me, mentally speaking. I am extremely grateful to have had the support of my family throughout this process. I intend to protect my honor and dignity."
Karmen Bruus: 'Unfair and unjust' EKJL decision
Additionally, Karmen Bruus made a statement in support of Viru, as did her parents.
Bruus said: "I have had a successful, but psychologically tough, year in sports. The accusations against my coach have come as incomprehensible to me, as my coaches Kersti and Mehis Viru have always been both respectful and supportive of me, and have taken care of my well-being both during training and competitions.
"It is thanks to them I achieved very important results for me in the title competitions last year. I have not felt the same level of support from EKJL, however."
Bruus called the reports of the charged against Viru "shocking" and expressed bewilderment as to why the investigating body had taken the word of a third party ahead of hers and her parents.
"In my opinion, this decision is very unfair and unjust," she added, and said that despite the negative impact the developments had had on her preparations for this year's athletics season, she would attempt to do her best, together with the support of coaches, her parents, sponsors and the public as a whole.
Bruus' parents, Liivika Suiste and Allan Bruus, also called the EKJL decision "shocking" and said they had no complaints against Mehis Viru or Kersti Viru, and expressed satisfaction over her progress in the high jump, under their tutelage.
They also stated they were "convinced" that the charges were the result of a "malicious" smear campaign directed against Karmen as well as against the coaches, suspicions deepened by the way in which both the EJKL and EADSE representatives had communicated with them and their attitude towards Viru, reiterating dismay over a third party's word being given a greater precedence than their daughter.
"The EKJL, which should stand an the athlete's well-being, has instead put Karmen under additional pressure, but without noticing the shortcomings of its own actions. We hope that the Estonian people will support Karmen in refuting these harsh accusations," Suitse and Bruus added.
The EKJL barred Viru from working as a coach after the association's board adopted the decision Wednesday.
The ban is for an indefinite period of time.
In addition to Bruus, Viru has coached various top athletes including triple jumper Kaire Leibak (retired) sprinter and hurdler Marielle Kleemeier, long jump/triple jump practitioner Liane Pintsaart and retired jumper Sirkka-Liisa Kivine.
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Editor: Andrew Whyte, Janno Joala, Karin Koppel
Source: 'Terevisioon', interviewer Liisu Lass.