Indonesian gymnastics coaches respond to allegation of expelling female athlete due to her virginity status

SEA Games 2019 held from Nov 30 to Dec 11 in the Philippines. Photo: SEA Games 2019
SEA Games 2019 held from Nov 30 to Dec 11 in the Philippines. Photo: SEA Games 2019

The coaches who worked with 17-year-old Indonesian athlete Shalfa Avrila Siani, who was allegedly sent home during a 2019 Southeast Asian (SEA) Games bootcamp due to accusations that she is not a virgin, have come forward and denied the allegations, after the news of her expulsion spread like wildfire in the country last week. 

Related: Mother of Indonesian athlete alleges daughter forcibly sent home during SEA Games training because she was ‘no longer a virgin,’ Sports Ministry refutes rumors

In an interview with Jawa Pos on Saturday, Indra Sibarani, who is coach for the national training camp (Pelatnas), denied that Shalfa was sent home from the 2019 Southeast Asian (SEA) Games bootcamp last month because of her virginity status. 

According to Indra, Shalfa was sent home because her performance drastically declined during the qualification rounds for the National Sports Week (PON) in early November. He explained that as a SEA Games athlete, she was expected to win the balance beam or floor exercise events, but instead placed 13th and seventh place, respectively, during the occasion. 

“No achievement, but [expecting to be] taken to SEA Games? Kok enake (you wish)! We wouldn’t mind if she had high achievement, but she was not likely to enter the final round in SEA Games,” Indra told Jawa Pos on Friday.

Zahari, a coach for the women’s national artistic gymnastics team who had reportedly been training Shalfa during the bootcamp in East Java’s Gresik regency, also sided with Indra. 

He said he wrote the recommendation letter to expel Shalfa, which was later considered by the Indonesian Gymnastics Association (Persani) and resulted in her being replaced with another athlete. 

Zahari noted that Shalfa’s performance has been declining and that she’s disobeyed several rules during the bootcamp, which includes female athletes being prohibited from going out late at night, dating or sleeping over at a male’s house. 

He alleged that Shalfa once asked for permission to go out at night for a group project, but later found that she had gone with her boyfriend. 

“She went to Malang with her boyfriend. We didn’t know what she did. She didn’t even say goodbye!” Zahari said.

 

Virginity test

Shalfa, who hails from the city of Kediri in East Java, was preparing to be a part of new team of national gymnastics athletes. However, she was expelled in mid-November and forced to return home by her coach, who allegedly cited her not being a virgin as the reason.

Shalfa’s mother, Ayu Kurniawati, claimed that the coach abruptly announced the decision without issuing an official letter. 

“[They said] the reason is because my daughter often came back late at night and that she’s no longer a virgin. They said her hymen was torn as if she was raped,” Ayu said on Thursday.

Ayu reportedly took her daughter for a medical examination afterwards, and said the allegation was false as the doctor confirmed that Shalfa’s hymen was still intact. (Editor’s note: an intact hymen is not necessarily a sign of virginity and not all women bleed from their vagina the first time they have sex.) 

However, as reported by Jawa Pos, Ayu said that the coaches were not willing to accept the results, and recommended that another test be taken at a different hospital, which Shalfa’s family then refused to comply with. 

The coaches expressed disappointment over the public claims made by Shalfa and her family, with Zahari saying that he didn’t use the word “virgin” in the letter he wrote.

“I’m emotional. Why did she open up about the virginity story, while we attempted to keep it out from the public. It was an internal issue for East Java [gymnastics team], didn’t have any correlation to the national training camp. There was no word of virgin in the letter!” Zahari continued.

“We returned her to her parents so that she will be safe. We didn’t have extra power to keep our eyes on a child who likes to runaway at night and comes back in the morning. What will happen if we let her stay, then something happened to her such as getting pregnant?” Indra added.

Persani chairwoman Ita Yuliati said on Friday that firm action will be taken towards the coach if he had indeed sent Shalfa home based on the accusation that she is no longer a virgin.  

“What’s clear is that we have to revoke his training permit. [The coach] has to quit because it will have a negative impact later on,” Ita told reporters, as quoted by state news agency Antara.

Ita added that Persani has previously fired a coach who was allegedly involved in a sexual harassment case. She further explained that there’s no regulation in Pelatnas that requires virginity tests for gymnasts, as it concerns privacy.

On Saturday, Shalfa told reporters that the whole ordeal has both embarrassed and stressed her out. She also called on to her coaches to apologize to her parents. 

“I accept if I was wrong and was perceived as undisciplined in my daily life, but don’t be like this. I pity my parents who had received the news. According to the medical examination, I’m still a virgin, and I never did things that are forbidden in religion,” Shalfa said, as quoted by Detik.

“I just want everyone who felt that they have accused me of not being a virgin, please apologize to my parents. Don’t hide behind this or that reason. And please clear my name, even though I don’t want to be a gymnast anymore.”

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