Chairman of the Finnish Olympic Committee Jan Vapaavuori has admitted it "mistakes were made" in dealing with allegations of harassment by a former official Mika Lehtimäki and his subsequent renewal of the contract.
Yle Sport reported earlier this week that Lehtimäki had received an internal warning last year after sending late-night text messages to two female colleagues. New reports revealed that the former senior official had also physically harassed women in the organization and despised them as they denied her progress.
Lehtimäki has denied it "all allegations of inappropriate physical contact". The allegations and warning did not prevent the government from granting Lehtimäki an agreement earlier this year to extend until 2024.
At a press conference on Thursday morning after the committee meeting on Wednesday, Vapaavuori said he wanted to apologize to the women who had been subjected to Lehtimäki’s inappropriate behavior.
"It can be said that a lot of mistakes have been made along the way. I have made mistakes. Big and small. I want to apologize to everyone. Above all, I apologize to the women who have suffered the most, but also to the Olympic family and our trade union, who have been concerned." Free Mountain said.
The Board of the Olympic Committee has previously stated that they – and the public – were unaware of Lehtimäki’s warning of late-night text messages because the matter had been agreed between the parties. However, according to Yle Sport, no such request has been made and no non-disclosure agreement has been reached.
Vapaavuori said at a press conference on Thursday morning that the government has now been informed of all the details of the case that led to Lehtimäki’s warning.
Vapaavuori: Extending Lehtimäki’s contract was a mistake
He also presented his own version of the events that led to the issuance of the official warning.
"The limit was exceeded in terms of time and message content. The messages were too friendly. I understand that they have caused uncertainty and anxiety. I made a mistake. This cannot be done in this position. The mistake is mine," he said.
Despite last fall’s warning, the board decided in early March to extend his contract until 2024, even though the board and the committee’s CEO were aware of the official remark.
Vapaavuori admits that the decision to allow Lehtimäki to continue in the role was a mistake and adds that the case has been handled too much on Lehtimäki’s terms.
"The biggest mistake happened when Mika Lehtimäki was given extra time, even though we were aware of the warning." Free Mountain said.
The committee will commission an external report
The Ministry of Education and Culture announced on Wednesday that it would ask the Olympic Committee to prepare a report on how such inappropriate behavior has been addressed in the organization and how it will be addressed in the future.
The ministry added that the request also relates to the principles of good and transparent governance.
Vapaavuori said at a press conference on Thursday that the Olympic Committee will commission an external study on the handling of Lehtimäki’s case, but there is no further information on the presentation.
"The first concrete conclusion is that we will carry out an external study on the case itself and its management from the Olympic Committee. We didn’t have a finger on the pulse of the work community in the right way. We did not realize that this was a broader cultural issue," he said.
Vapaavuori was also asked whether he was trusted by the board and staff of the Olympic Committee.
"I did not feel that trust had a direct effect. As for the staff, I can’t say. I hope you are trusted. I want to apologize to them for the misjudgment. I want to assure you that we have realized that the gap between staff and management is too great. This dialogue needs to be improved so that we have a better understanding of how staff experience their work on a daily basis," Vapaavuori replied.
Vapaavuori is the former mayor of Helsinki, the Minister of Economic Affairs and the Vice-Chairman of the European Investment Bank. He has chaired the Finnish Olympic Committee since 2020.
Leena Paavolainen will take over from Lehtimäki as the interim head of the unit until his new appointment.
Source: The Nordic Page