Independent support group Children’s Rights in Society (Barnens Rätt i Samhället – BRIS) said it received 38 phone calls relating to child sexual abuse in the three days following Sjöberg’s harrowing account of his treatment at the hands of national team coach Viljo Nousiainen. BRIS took 19 hotline calls in the same period last year.
“I’ve said it all along: even if I only manage to get one child to speak out, it will be worth it,” Sjöberg, 46, told newspaper Aftonbladet.
BRIS secretary general Göran Harnesk said he welcomed Sjöberg’s decision to go public with his story after decades of silence.
“It’s important that a famous person dares to speak out about this,” Harnesk told news agency TT. “That generally results in others feeling they’re not the only ones affected.”
Nousiainen, who died in 1999, had a relationship with Patrik Sjöberg’s mother for many years.
In the very frank autobiography ‘What you didn’t see’ (‘Det du inte såg’), Sjöberg, who won the World Championships in Rome in 1987 and holds three Olympic medals, tells of how Nousiainen soon became the father figure his eleven-year-old self had been lacking.
Nousiainen gave the rising star his full attention and lots of praise when he did something well.
But Sjöberg also remembered waking on a number of occasions with his sheets and pyjamas pulled off. He said he confronted Nousianen several times but his stepfather always denied any wrongdoing.
When Nousiainen separated from Sjöberg’s mother, Sjöberg chose to go with his stepfather, a decision he described as “a no-brainer” if he wanted to be the world’s best high jumper.
When Sjöberg turned fifteen, he decided that the abuse had to stop. Nousiainen tried a few more times but Sjöberg made it clear that he would go to the police if it happened again.
Sjöberg doesn’t think he was the first and he knows he wasn’t the last among Nousiainen’s victims.
Another Swedish sports profile to come forward after Sjöberg’s revelation was athletics coach Yannick Tregaro, who said he was abused by Nousiainen from the age of twelve or thirteen.
According to Tregaro, he was having a rough time at home and was turning more and more to his coach for support. As he got older he realised that what was going on was not strictly above board.
Tregaro said he was pleased that Sjöberg had come forward with his revelation.
The former world champion explained that he had never told anyone about how
his coach repeatedly used sports therapy as an excuse to get him naked and
molest him until he two years ago was talking with former Norwegian youth
champion Christian Skaar Thomassen and discovered that he too had been abused
Sjöberg’s and Tregaro’s revelations have rocked the Swedish athletics establishment. Many worked closely with Nousiainen without ever realizing what was going on.
The Swedish Sports Confederation (Riksidrottsförbundet) said that it was taking the matter of child abuse very seriously.
According to chairwoman Karin Mattson-Weijber, the Confederation has recently issued stricter guidelines as to how individuals and sports clubs should act with regards to abuse.
It has also demanded to be given the right to carry out background checks for sports leaders, something that today is practice prior to hiring schoolteachers and preschool staff.