Boccia coach accused of abuse at the Paralympics

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Boccia coach accused of abuse at the Paralympics

The Korea Sports Association for the Disabled, the nation’s governing body of the Paralympics, announced yesterday it is launching an investigation into an allegation that an assistant coach of the national Boccia squad physically and mentally abused his players for years.

The family of one of the players, Ji Kwang-min, 31, claims that Ji, the No. 1 Boccia player in the world, failed to win a medal of any color during the London Paralympic Games because the assistant coach assaulted him ahead of the competition. Ji was knocked out of the tournament in the quarterfinals.

Ji’s family brought the case against the coach, only identified as a 42-year-old man surnamed Kim, to the Incheon Prosecutors’ Office on Monday for assaulting Ji on a regular basis for the past six years. The coach is also accused of extorting money from Ji - 500,000 won to 1 million won ($448 to $897) at a time - on several occasions.

The family claims that it was not only Ji who was battered by the assistant coach. According to Ji and his family, a drunken Kim beat him and other players at their lodging place at the London Paralympics. The family said they had submitted recorded testimonies of other Boccia players to the prosecution.

Korea won a gold medal in Boccia at the London Paralympics from Choi Ye-jin, a female player. She also trained under the same assistant coach, according to the association, but it is not yet known whether she is one of the players who testified.

Kim has denied the accusation. “I have never assaulted the players. It was only a couple of kkulbam,” he told Ilgan Sports, an affiliate with the JoongAng Ilbo.

Kkulbam is a Korean word meaning hitting on the head with the tip of a knuckle, a customary light form of punishment for misbehaving children that is less tolerated in today’s culture.

“The allegation of money extortion is also different from what happened,” the assistant coach said.

The officials of the Korea Sports Association for the Disabled said the association held an emergence meeting over the issue Tuesday night and decided to set up a fact-checking committee for the internal investigation.

The committee will be made up of Seong Mun-jeong, the head of a disciplinary committee of the association, and four other legal experts with knowledge of the sports community, the association said.

“We will sternly deal with this case so that people will not look at the disabled sports community through distorted prisms,” said an official of the association.

Boccia is a Portuguese precision ball game. Players compete by throwing balls as close as possible to the target ball, called the jack. Only those with cerebral palsy or other severe mobility disabilities can participate in the game at the Paralympics.

It is one of Korea’s strongest programs at the Paralympic Games. Korea won two gold medals in the sport at the 2008 Beijing Paralympics.

By Song Ji-hoon, Moon Gwang-lip [joe@joongang.co.kr]

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