Ending violence against athletesAnother life of a young Korean has ended too soon, this time, after enduring brutal physical and verbal abuse inside of the notoriously harsh Korean sports community. Choi Suk-hyeon, a 23-year-old triathlete from the Korean national team, committed suicide after suffering years of physical assault from her coach, team doctor and senior teammates. The sports community vowed to fix its bullying and abusive disciplining practices after Olympic short-track champion Shim Suk-hee raised criminal charges against her coach for multiple counts of sexual assault. Given the latest findings, however, not much has changed despite repeated declarations from the government, legislature and sports community.
Various records and testimonies suggest Choi suffered beatings and verbal abuse from the head of the Gyeongju city triathlon team and team doctor. She had filed complaints and sought help with the city authorities, police, the Korea Triathlon Federation and the Korean Sport & Olympic Committee (KSOC), but failed to receive a response. Before she took her own life, she filed a petition with the National Human Rights Commission and pleaded with her mother to shed light on their crimes.
Last year, Team Kim — the star curlers who won a silver medal at the 2018 PyeongChang Winter Olympics — exposed that they had endured abuse by coaches and did not get their prize money. Earlier last year, Shim and Shin Yu-yong, a former judo athlete, revealed that they were sexually abused regularly. The government has launched a sports reform committee and closed residential training centers to root out violence in sports training fields. But the measures were strongly contested by KSOC in fear of weakening the Korean sports powerhouse.
We wonder if KSOC has any will to fix the violations of athletes’ rights. Lee Kee-heung, president of the committee who had been defensive of the coach who raped Shim, was able to extend his term by revising the corporate article.
The Korean sports field condoned harsh discipline and abuse, prioritizing good results. This performance-first and collusive nature in the sports arena has neglected human rights. Other athletes from the Gyeongju city team have also come forward. All allegations must be scrutinized. Authorities must come up with fundamental measures. But a new rule aimed at protecting athletes excludes team doctors and non-training staff. It must be stricter and broader to ensure protection of young athletes.