Sexual abuse in sportsTwo-time Olympic gold medalist Shim Suk-hee’s Me Too revelations about her years of sexual assaults by her coach — even until shortly before the PyeongChang Winter Olympics last February — has shaken the sports community, as well as our entire society.
Various sporting associations held a joint press conference claiming that there were five to six more victims on the skating team. Two of them have already named the wrongdoer. Some athletes are still active on the ice, having endured sexual abuse from early ages, just as Shim did.
Coaches and team heads have absolute power over athletes. Aspiring athletes are put under their care and training from a tender age. After years of training, the coach can turn into a lordly figure with complete influence over the athletes. Shim was repeatedly abused by the former national team coach Cho Jae-beom under such a strict hierarchic power structure. What is shocking is that the sports system had no protection for young athletes.
The National Assembly, Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism, and the Korean Sports & Olympic Committee all rushed to come out with countermeasures amidst a deepening public outrage. Some of the measures include installation of closed-circuit cameras in national sports training centers, including locker rooms, and investigations of national athlete villages in Seoul and Jincheon, North Chungcheong, as well as a broad probe of sexual abuses. But most of these measures are simply knee-jerk reactions, except for permanently kicking out any coach with sexual abuse in their past.
According to a report by Hannam University, 73 out of 2,000 surveyed athletes — including those on the national team — have claimed to have been victims of sexual assault by their coaches. The offenses mostly took place in dorms, but also occured on training sites, in locker rooms, shower rooms and even the coaches’ rooms. An athletes’ village, which should have been a resting place for athletes, was actually a place of danger.
The matter must not be left to a certain sporting association or the Korean Sports & Olympic Association (KSOA). Serious sexual crimes have been committed in sports facilities built and running on tax funds by leaders who are paid by the government. The government must ensure that young sports players have nothing to fear.
JoongAng Sunday, Jan. 12-13, Page 30