TKD coach, star accused of sex abuse

Team USA'S long-time Olympic coach Jean Lopez (left) and his brother Steven are at the centre of a lawsuit that alleges that Usoc and USA Taekwondo were made aware of their behaviour in 2006 but no action was taken for a decade.
Team USA'S long-time Olympic coach Jean Lopez (above) and his brother Steven are at the centre of a lawsuit that alleges that Usoc and USA Taekwondo were made aware of their behaviour in 2006 but no action was taken for a decade.

NEW YORK • Four former elite female taekwondo athletes have filed a federal lawsuit accusing the United States Olympic Committee (Usoc) and USA Taekwondo of engaging in sex trafficking by forcing them to compete alongside long-time Olympic coach Jean Lopez and his brother Steven, a two-time Olympic gold medallist.

The brothers, once regarded as among the most respected figures in taekwondo, are now at the centre of another sex abuse scandal riling Olympic organisations.

In the lawsuit, which was filed last Friday in federal court in Denver, the four women accused Jean and Steven, one of the most decorated athletes in the sport's history, of using their power and influence to coerce them into sex acts.

Jean, 44, coached Team USA at the 2004, 2008, 2012 and 2016 Olympics while Steven, 39, is a five-time Olympian and has won five world titles.

Usoc and USA Taekwondo officials were made aware of the Lopez brothers' behaviour as early as 2006, the lawsuit alleges, but no action was taken until after the 2016 Rio Games, where Jean coached and Steven competed.

They have not been charged with a crime in connection with the allegations and neither responded to phone calls and e-mails seeking comment on Monday.

According to USA Today, Steven was temporarily suspended yesterday by USA Taekwondo and the US Centre for SafeSport - which conducts investigations of allegations of sex abuse in Olympic sports organisations in the US - pending the resolution of a probe into the allegations.

Last month, the centre banned Jean for life from associating with Olympic organisations for an incident of sexual misconduct involving a minor. It justified the ban after asserting that there had been "a decades-long pattern of sexual misconduct (by Jean)... abusing his power to groom, manipulate and ultimately, sexually abuse younger female athletes".

Steven is also under investigation by the centre for an allegation of sexual misconduct dating from June last year.

In a statement, Usoc spokesman Patrick Sandusky did not address the allegations raised in the lawsuit.

"The Usoc is deeply focused on supporting, protecting and empowering the athletes we serve," he wrote. "We are aggressively exploring and implementing new ways to enhance athlete safety, and prevent and respond to abuse."

USA Taekwondo executive director Steve McNally, in a statement, wrote that the organisation is reviewing the lawsuit, and declined to comment further.

The allegations against the Lopez brothers date from June 1997, when former Team USA athlete Mandy Meloon claims Jean sexually assaulted her one night after a competition in Cairo, Egypt. She was 15 then. She also accused Steven, whom she went on to date, of beating her and raping her twice, once in 2004 and again in 2005.

Another former Team USA athlete, Heidi Gilbert, accused Jean of spiking her drink with a drug at a party after a 2003 competition in Germany, and of sexually assaulting her that night.

In a statement issued last month after the centre's decision, Jean denied the allegations made by Meloon, 37, and Gilbert, 36.

"It is an absolute fact that these claims against me are not true," he said.

WASHINGTON POST

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 09, 2018, with the headline 'TKD coach, star accused of sex abuse'. Print Edition | Subscribe