SEOUL: South Korea will launch an inquiry into sexual and other abuses in the nation’s scandal-ridden sports community, the government said Friday, as the sports minister called for an end to its “win-at-all-costs” mentality.
Double Olympic short track gold medallist Shim Suk-hee earlier this month went public with accusations her former coach molested her multiple times, prompting several other victims to come forward.
South Korea is a regional sporting power and regularly in the top 10 medal table places at the summer and winter Olympics.
But in an already intensely competitive society, winning is virtually everything in its sports community and coaches hold immense power over athletes’ careers — intimidating victims from coming forward.
“I want to apologise to athletes, their families and citizens in South Korea for not preventing such incidents of abuse,” said sports minister Do Jong-hwan.
“With this probe, we need to walk away from the winning-at-all-costs philosophy,” he told reporters. “We can no longer push athletes into a fierce competition system under the name of national pride.”
The sports, education and gender equality ministries will draw up a plan to revise relevant laws to jail sports officials who do not report sex crimes in their organisations, Do added.
A separate probe will be launched into the Korea National Sport University, he said, where a staff member has been accused of sexually molesting a student athlete.
Not all the cases involve sexual assaults, and not all the victims are women.
in November, South Korea’s “Garlic Girls” curling team, who shot to fame by winning Olympic silver at last year’s Pyeongchang Games, accused their coaches of verbal abuse and being excessively controlling.
Another speed skater, Noh Seon-yeong, last year accused the Korea Skating Union (KSU) of forcing her brother Jin-kyu — a top medal contender for Sochi 2014 — to stay in training rather than seek medical attention despite chronic pain.
He was later diagnosed with bone cancer following a training injury, never went to Sochi and died in 2016.
“My brother was just used by the KSU, whose members were only interested in collecting Olympic gold medals,” Noh said.