Sophia Bekatorou Is A Whistleblower, Too
Why indivisibles such as Olympic Sailor Mrs. Bekatorou should be considered a whistleblower
Earlier this year, Greece joined the latest “MeToo” outcry over sexual abuse in sports and the theater industry following the reports of sexual harassment in the country. Olympics sailing champion Sofia Bekatorou has spoken about having been sexually abused at a young age by a senior official of the Hellenic Sailing Federation. Bekatorou, a Gold medalist, now 43, broke her silence after 20 years and sparked an investigation. Meanwhile, as the perpetrator named in reports was a member of the party, New Democracy suspended his membership, while the Hellenic Sailing Federation has reportedly requested and received the man’s resignation. Deputy Minister of Sports Lefteris Avgenakis announced that he suspends all funding to the Greek Sailing Federation and ordered an audit of its board members’ assets, as part of an investigation into allegations of sexual assault, mismanagement, and corruption by senior officials.
Bekatorou’s confession unleashed a tsunami of sexual abuse and harassment revelations by other women in Greece. From Bekatorou’s revelations, The MeToo movement in Greece has moved from the world of Sports to the world of Arts and Entertainment with female and male actors denouncing sexual harassment and abuse but also bullying by directors in theater and the film industry.
As Despina Papageorgiou, the AthensLive Weekly Digest Newsletter put it a few weeks ago:
“Becatorou will be remembered for opening up such an important issue in Greece. And this is a contribution in the country’s culture greater than her gold medal.”
“Fact is that Bekatorou opened the bag from Aeolus and finally let the wind out for despicable circumstances and conditions in the Greek sports world that were hidden under the carpet for years: abuse of power by those who decided on the fate of an athlete, sexual harassment and abuse, the fear of victims to be targeted, not find support or even being expelled from the sports they loved and felt dedicated to.”
When the allegations emerged in the entertainment industry, and I’m copying from her latest interview with the Associated Press, Mrs. Bekatorou said:
“I was feeling, you know, something really strong coming from inside, but I wasn’t ready to deal with it. And I didn’t want just to talk about it. I wanted to change something,” Bekatorou said.
“And I knew that in order to change something, I had to be ready, whether someone would follow me or no one would….Now, I’m ready.”
It is clear that Mrs. Bekatorou blew the whistle on sexual harassment and my take is slightly more technical. Indivisibles such as Mrs. Bekatorou should be considered whistleblowers because no matter their motives, their courageous actions benefit us, Greek society.
“The ideology and concept of whistleblowing”
In 2019 the EU Directive protection act of whistleblowers was introduced in order to promote legal rights and minimal standard procedures regarding the protection of whistleblowers within the Eu. By introducing various legislations and secured mechanisms of protection to whistleblowers we are encouraging members of our society to become proactive members against corruption and wrongdoing, promoting them to come forward without the fear of retaliation, to report wrongdoing and corruption.
There are many debates by “experts” as to who can be named a whistleblower, who can enjoy the protection and how can we transposition the new 2019 directive of the whistleblower protection act to Greece.
To all those skeptical bureaucrats I always reply with the same answer: We need to look at what a whistleblower represents, understand the concept and Ideology behind it, and examine how our society benefits from their noble actions. Only then we can successfully interpret and incorporate the Directives legislation into our country’s Judiciary.
It is vital to establish who will directly benefit from whistleblowers.
As the governments around the world have grossly failed to effectively combat corruption, the whistleblower concept, can freely reveal information of wrongdoing to the public domain and not limited just to certain internal or external mechanisms of reporting. Such a piece of information can be introduced directly to the public, via digital media, journalists, or various anonymous reporting mechanisms. (80,81 of page 13 of the Directive)
The case of Sophia Bekatorou
One such example is Mrs. Sofia Bekatorou. As a whistleblower myself I had many debates with “experts” arguing why Mrs. Bekatorou should or should not be considered a whistleblower.
A lot of whistleblowing is about financial corruption but sometimes it’s about other types of wrongdoing.
That happens most often when there is a power imbalance and the more powerful person in the organization uses their position to both do something wrong, and also to crush the less powerful person who speaks up.
Sexual harassment inside an office or an association is one common example of this.
And the person who often speaks up is the woman who is not in a position of power.
Mrs. Bekatorou chose to do just that. She revealed wrongdoing that she had witnessed, during the past, while serving as an athlete of a professional national institution. Such wrongdoing was likely to be repeated and continue to cause harm to our society. There are two categories of whistleblowers. They are the ones that have direct information (directly witnessed wrongdoing) or indirect (hearsay, told by someone else). Mrs. Bekatorou is both a direct and indirect whistleblower.
She disclosed direct sexual assault by people of power at a professional athletic institution and she disclosed hearsay of a third person, that had also been the victim of a sexual assault. Mrs. Bekatorou, therefore, introduced a pattern of repeated wrongdoing by people of power, during a period of time, that will likely be repeated in the future as well.
If Mrs. Bekatorou did not come forward, more people could have suffered. Our children could be the next victims of such wrongdoing. So, in essence, Mrs. Bekatorou’s reporting effectively removed those alleged elements of corruption, and our society directly benefited from such reporting. Even better, more whistleblowers are coming forward to report similar incidents of wrongdoing at places of work because of her bravery.
We cannot question or be puzzled by Mrs. Bekatorou’s motivations for reporting wrongdoing years later. We are assessing and value the benefit to our society from such information of wrongdoing. The directive is referring to this in clause 32 page 7.
This is the core essence of whistleblowing. People are blinded, narrow-minded, or too corrupted and guilty to allow for this newly introduced ideology to move on. They are trying their best to restrict it within a stereotype of the legal frame that will discourage and limit whistleblowers from coming forward and reporting wrongdoing.
We need to promote and embrace this new ideology and social movement called whistleblowing within our ethnic culture, our schools’ education, and society and not only be concerned about the transposition of the EU directives legislation to our national legal system. For people to adopt the whistle-blower concept, they need to understand and embrace it first.
Aristeides Danikas is an internationally awarded whistleblower who was forced to flee South Africa, after reporting extrajudicial killings, torture of African suspects, and racism by a police unit, he served as a volunteer for 10 years in South Africa. Aristeides has studied and worked in electronics in South Africa, he is retired and currently working pro-bono with Blue Print For free speech as well as other NGOs, as a project consultant and researcher in Human rights.