High school skating scandal eruptsMore than a dozen Korean high-school short-track speed skating coaches are under investigation for allegedly rigging races to help their skaters win medals, Seoul police said Thursday.
The Seoul Metropolitan Police Agency has requested an arrest warrant for a 45-year-old coach, whose name was withheld, and booked 13 others without detention for fixing the results of 500-meter and 1,000-meter races at a national competition in March. The police said the coaches had tapped certain skaters to finish in the top three before the races and forced others to either withdraw or slow down during their runs.
Coaches have reportedly told police that they wanted to ensure their high school seniors would earn medals at a national event so that they could enter universities on athletic scholarships.
The police said the 45-year-old, a former national-team skater, initiated the race rigging. When other coaches refused to get involved, he threatened that his skaters would deliberately injure others and coerced other coaches into signing a letter of confidentiality about their misdeeds.
Allegations of race fixing have already marred the sport this year. In April, two Vancouver Winter Olympics medalists, Lee Jung-su and Kwak Yoon-gy, were suspended for six months for their role in manipulating the team selection process. Executives of the Korea Skating Union also stepped down in the aftermath. An official with the KSU said Thursday he had been aware of the ongoing investigation.
“Just as coaches and skaters are trying to bounce back from the previous rigging scandal, this happened,” the official said. “This is disconcerting. If there is any guilty conviction, we will determine the degree of punishment by the union.”
Another KSU official said the high school race in question was such a minor event that it was difficult to catch any rigging behind the scenes.
“After the last rigging controversy, we said any more race fixing would lead to strong punishment, including a lifetime ban from the sport,” the official said. “As far as I know, we haven’t had any incidents recently.”
In order to eliminate room for race fixing, the KSU altered the format of the national team trials this year to “time racing.” In that setup, skaters race alone on the ice and the ones with the fastest times earn their national team berths ahead of International Skating Union World Cup events.