There was an unfortunate incident on June 26. Choi Suk-hyeon, a former triathlete of Gyeongju City Hall took her own life. She suffered from many years of physical abuse and verbal harassment. After Ms. Choi’s suicide, her family released her secret diary and recordings. Through some documents and announcements of teammates, it had been revealed that Ms. Choi was assaulted by a coach, the team’s doctor, and two senior teammates. On July 6, the Korea Triathlon Federation banned the team captain, Jang Yun-jeong, and the coach Kim Gyu-bong, from the sport for life. Also, prosecutors were preparing criminal charges against them.
This is not the f irst abuse scandal in the South Korean sports community. In 2018, short track speed skater Sim Suk-hee did not attend training ahead of the opening of the Pyeongchang Winter Olympics. According to the investigation of the Korean Sport and Olympic Committee, the reason was due to the indiscriminate assault of former coach Cho Jaebeom. In the same year, Team Kim, which made an outstanding achievement in women’s curling, also reported the facts of assault damage. They received severe verbal abuse from the director of the Gyeongsangbukdo Sports Council.
The sports community scandal stretched to the Korea National Sports University. On July 3, police said that they were investigating a student from the handball division on a charge of “special assault.” During a camp training session held on June 15, a junior student assaulted a sophomore and freshman.
“34.3 percent of elementary schools, 33.7 percent of middle schools, 73.1 percent of high schools and 59.8 percent of adult teams have experiences with verbal, physical or sexual abuse. Especially, 8.2 percent of adult team members said that they were beaten almost every day.” This is the result of the statistic discovered by the National Human Rights Commission of Korea. As the statistics show, abuse cases are a serious situation. Why do assault scandals continue to happen repeatedly and widely in the sports community?
The biggest problem is that there is a fundamental defect with the Korean sports community system. Although there have been continuous incidents of violence, soft punishments would let offenders get away with their crimes. Therefore, some of them went back to being a member of the team, as if nothing had happened. Also, there is a lack of facilities for protecting the human rights of athletes. The human rights counseling center is located only in the Jincheon National Training Center. However, only an active member of the national team can use it.
The problem of education matters too. There has been a deep culture of absolute obedience to leaders in the sports community, and everyone has grown up watching this. Furthermore, less than 70 percent of the athletes completed violence prevention education, so they were not aware of the seriousness of the situation.
Though there are structural flaws, this incident is an act of abuse in which a clear victim exists. As a member of society, we need to continue to demand that the perpetrator be punished severely. Also, we need to keep an eye on the sports community to prevent more victims.