Ending sports violenceA recent survey of 1,139 teenage athletes by the National Human Rights Commission revealed that athletes at middle and high schools constantly suffer verbal and physical abuse from their coaches and seniors.
Eight out of 10 respondents said they were beaten by coaches or seniors and six out of 10 said they were sexually assaulted. One female student who responded to the survey even tried to committee suicide because of constant beating by her seniors.
Violence and physical punishment has long been accepted here as a necessary evil to discipline young athletes and help them perform better in competitions. But the survey shows that the level of violence has reached the point of driving athletes to quit training.
We are now witnessing a vicious cycle where young students who were once victims of the violence learn the pattern and become seniors or coaches who follow the very same practice of beating juniors and proteges.
But despite such violence, which is tantamount to serious abuse of human rights, few victims dare to step forward and report them to authorities for fear of consequences that may drive them out of sports.
Most teenage athletes in middle and high schools are not able to get a proper education at school as they are constantly in training for competitions. Some of them can barely even perform basic math operations.
So the young athletes who have few career alternatives are forced to suffer verbal, physical and sexual abuses and are unable to voice complaints.
There have been a stream of media reports and a flurry of criticism about human rights abuses in local athletics. And the sports associations and coaches’ association have responded by pledging to rectify the situation. The human rights watchdog has also made a wide range of proposals to encourage teenage athletes to receive proper education and curb violence by coaches and older athletes. As part of such efforts, the Korea Football Association and the government decided to ban soccer competitions during school semesters.
But we still have a long way to go. More than anything else, we need to view teenage athletes as students instead of sports machines.
In order to do so, we have to guarantee them the right to a proper education and to train for their sports without worrying about possible beatings and abuse from anyone.
As the first step to achieve this goal, we have to shut down the current system in which young students stay in a training camp nearly 24/7 all year long while skipping most school classes and other school activities. The ban on soccer competitions during school terms should be extended to other sports as well.
Schools can also get teaching tutors for athletes who are falling behind in their schoolwork, as Yonsei University’s varsity basketball team is doing.