Win-at-all-cost mentality at odds with human rightsWhat could be worse for athletes than getting caught using performance-enhancing drugs? Taking beatings from their coaches, and starting to hate the very sports in which they are competing, would be one correct answer.
What six Korean short track speed skaters revealed this week isn’t shocking. It’s not even news. At least for the scores of Korean athletes in training at this very moment it isn’t. Some are getting the same treatment that these youngsters did. Perhaps a majority has had similar experiences.
And yet nobody is raising alarms. Why not? Because in this country, physical punishment has long been used by coaches to push their athletes, and nobody really cares. All we care about are the medals that come home. But what we have forgotten is that, at this very moment, basic rights are being violated under the pretext of “the good of the country.”
Most athletes put up with such treatment because others have. Most coaches use the same old methods because others have. The public treats it with no more interest than a stock market ticker, because the culture of physical punishment is deeply embedded in our society.
What I am going to say may be considered a stretch by some, but it’s my two cents. From the Japanese colonial days, physical punishment was the norm not only for athletes, but also for many generations of students. Then military dictators took over the country, and nothing much changed. As a means of controlling a classroom of 50 or 60 students, and to cement the authority of the teacher, physical punishment went on.
In my school days, the whole class was often punished with slaps on the hand with sticks for such things as falling behind in class rankings. That was in the ’90s. At other times, someone would be called into a separate room and get beaten up. It was all part of growing up. You could call it standard procedure. Nobody raised a peep.
Nowadays, the situation has much improved, but relatively light physical punishment is still accepted. In any other country, such as the United States, the lawyers would be making a killing. Nobody calls the police here. Sadly, for athletes, the training regime has not changed much. Officials of the skating union have handed in their resignations, but that won’t change what’s going on, and it won’t cure the scars left behind. “I began to hate skating, a sport that I have loved so much,” said one of the young skaters. How can you heal these wounds? You can’t.
Yet it’s safe to say that this won’t change things. Perhaps we need something more shocking to rescue us from our own clouded judgment.
Currently, the police won’t investigate any beating cases unless someone has formally filed a charge. A skating union official has said the matter would be closed with the dismissal of the coaches, and possibly the revocation of their coaching licenses. Not enough. To break this habit that has been embedded for so long, drastic measures are needed. But I am afraid that nothing will happen until it’s too late. Until then, we’ll continue to use the phrase “world class” whenever we mention one of our athletes who’s achieved greatness, without thinking too much about the cost at which it came. Shame on us.
by Brian Lee