Twin volleyball stars suspended over bullying charges
"It is with a heavy sense of responsibility that we made the decision," a spokesperson for the association told Yonhap News on Monday.
The Pink Spiders also indefinitely suspended the twins Monday.
Fans of the V league have had an exciting 2020-21 season, with the Pink Spiders having the three best players in the league: The Lee twins and Kim Yeon-koung, generally considered to be the greatest player in the league's history.
The three were expected to make it to the national team and play in the Tokyo Olympics in July.
And then the twins' bullying scandal started snowballing.
A former teammate of the twins in middle school complained online on Feb. 10 about being bullied. The post listed 21 allegations of bullying, including being threatened with a knife. She said there were at least three more victims bullied by the same perpetrators.
Although the victim didn't name the twins, volleyball fans pieced together clues from information she posted, such as a photo of the yearbook of the middle school the victim attended.
Later on Feb. 10, the victim posted that the bullies had contacted her and asked to meet to apologize in person. Shortly after, Lee Jae-young and Lee Da-young made a public apology via Instagram.
But for some fans, the apology came too late.
"I don't ever want to see them again on TV," a 35-year-old woman surnamed Lee told the JoognAng Ilbo on Sunday. "Lee Da-young was my favorite player. I watched all her games. But I was also bullied in school. Now when I see Lee's face, all I can think of is the person who bullied me."
A petition was posted on the Blue House website on Friday to demand a national investigation into the allegations. Over 90,000 people signed it as of Monday. Anyone can submit a petition to the Blue House, and any petition signed by over 200,000 people receives a direct response from the presidential office or relevant government department.
"If it is true that female volleyball players have bullied fellow students in school, the Korean Volleyball Federation had better permanently expel the athletes from the federation," reads the petition. "A national investigation by the Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism should be in order."
Despite the twins' apology, more accusations about their bullying in middle school have surfaced online.
"The twins would make me clean up after them, and make other teammates do their laundry," someone posted in an online community on Saturday. "When they didn't get things done their way, they would call their parents, and then the rest of us living with them in the dormitory would get punished [by the coaches]."
The poster said that such practices were so common at the school that she gave up on becoming a volleyball athlete because of the twins.
Another poster, who identified herself as a mother of a former teammate of the twins, recalled some instances she witnessed during school games in 2011.
"When I attended the games to watch my daughter play, it wasn't hard to see that the team existed solely for the twins," the user wrote. "For the sake of the young students hoping to be professional athletes one day, the volleyball association and the Heungkuk Life Insurance Pink Spiders had better make sure that they twins don't go unpunished."
Several Korean athletes have been embroiled in bullying scandals recently, including popular volleyball athletes Song Myung-geun and Shim Kyoung-sub of the OK Financial Group OKman Volleyball Club.
After former schoolmates accused them of bullying last week, both Song and Shim issued apologies and said they would be withdrawing from the remaining games in this season.
Bullying scandals have mushroomed in Korea in recent years, involving not just athletes but members of K-pop groups and star chefs. Last year, celebrity chef Lee Won-il withdrew from a reality cooking show on MBC after allegations that his wife was a bully in school surfaced. Boy band Block B's Park Kyung apologized publicly last year after several victims accused him of bullying in school.
"I think the important part in these scandals is how changes are made," said Cha Doo-ok, a professor of media and entertainment at Dongshin University. "Instead of simply calling for an ouster of the perpetrator, we need to create a culture where the perpetrator can be given the time and environment to apologize and make amends. That way, the perpetrators are not just disappearing or going into hiding, they will remain public and visible and so will their apologies. That will, in turn, help young students realize that being a bully in school can follow you through life, even after school. That should give them second thoughts before they bully anyone."
BY ESTHER CHUNG, PYUN GWANG-HYUN [firstname.lastname@example.org]