Sports policy: The Hempel case: Consequences for the whole sport?

For Jan Hempel it is about a lot of compensation for pain and suffering, for German sport it is a case with possibly far-reaching consequences.

Sports policy: The Hempel case: Consequences for the whole sport?

For Jan Hempel it is about a lot of compensation for pain and suffering, for German sport it is a case with possibly far-reaching consequences.

The announced million-dollar lawsuit by the former water jumper against the German Swimming Association (DSV) for years of sexual abuse by his trainer could set a precedent for dealing with sexualised violence and the responsibility of associations.

"The more cases come to the public, the more dare other affected people to go public," says DSV Vice President Wolfgang Rupieper of the German Press Agency. "There could be many more demands on associations."

Hempel demands seven-figure damages from the DSV. "It is the most blatant case of abuse that German sport has ever experienced," said his lawyer Thomas Summerer recently in the ARD "Sportschau". Hempel accuses his late coach Werner Langer of abusing him in the 1980s and 1990s. Last summer, the 51-year-old from Dresden, who won silver from the tower at the 1996 Olympics and bronze in 2000, went public with it. The case triggered a broad discussion about abuse and violence in German sport and how to deal with it.

Lawsuits worth millions could lead to insolvency cases

With more than 1,200 cases of sexual abuse over a period of 14 years, it shouldn't come as a surprise if you demand a large sum from the DSV, said his lawyer. According to the association's vice president, Rupieper, the association is not allowed to pay any compensation. "Based on our statutes, we can't provide compensation to individuals because we would then lose non-profit status," he says.

And Rupieper sees another problem. "When it comes to lawsuits worth millions, the question of insolvency in the world immediately arises - regardless of our association," he says. "But that would not serve those affected either. It would not be possible to deal with it if the necessary funds were not available and if improvements were not made possible, which is a central goal in addition to the opportunity to make those affected heard." In plain language: Most associations could probably not afford compensation in the seven-digit euro range. But are they actually responsible?

"Organizational liability exists in principle, but such claims are also subject to the statute of limitations," says Paul Lambertz, a specialist lawyer for sports law. "Civil law stipulates a limitation period of 30 years for claims for damages based on the intentional violation of sexual self-determination."

In principle, each individual case is “worthy of pain and suffering”. If there were claims that are already time-barred, "in my opinion, the DSV would have at most a moral obligation to compensate for the damage caused," says Lambertz.

"In a trial there will only be losers"

The swimming association has set up an independent commission of inquiry to investigate cases of sexualised violence. With regard to compensation payments, Rupieper emphasizes the need for a cross-association and fundamental regulation "to ensure that the associations and clubs make reparations, but at the same time can continue to act". Funds or foundations could be a possibility. "There must also be standards for how compensation is paid and what forms of compensation are possible. This is an urgent task in sport that we must tackle together."

Sports lawyer Lambertz also sees that the Hempel case could set a precedent. "However, it would still be a difficult and long road for other victims to assert their claims, because as a plaintiff you are burdened with proof, which means that as a plaintiff you have to provide evidence of the assaults and their consequences."

This could also be complicated at Hempel. "Providing evidence will be difficult because the accused are no longer alive and can therefore be summoned as witnesses. It is therefore no longer possible to confront them with the allegations," says Lambertz. His prognosis: "In a process, there will only be losers."

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