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Olympic athletes quit after abuse

May 2014

For South Korea, one of the highlights of the Sochi Winter Olympics was the performance of their women’s curling team. Though they just missed the podium, their performance impressed.

Pride turned to anger in March when four members of the team resigned, claiming their coach had verbally and sexually abused them. The women also said the coach forced them to hand over part of the reward money they received for their Sochi performance.

An investigation concluded that the curlers’ claims were largely true and the Korea Curling Federation said it would impose penalties.

The coach apologised to the parents of the curlers, claiming he was only encouraging them to perform better and that the money was to help “encourage young curlers.” He was fired.

Curling became popular in Korea during the Sochi Games thanks to the team’s performance, overcoming its status as little-known sport, and lighting hopes for the 2018 Winter Games in Korea’s Pyeongchang City.

This was not the first time young athletes have complained of abuse. In 2008, a survey by the National Human Rights Commission of Korea (NHRCK) found that six out of every 10 athletes at secondary schools had suffered sexual harassment from their coaches.

The NHRCK surveyed 1,139 male and female athletes at middle and high schools nationwide over six months in cooperation with Ewha University. The survey found that 63.8% of respondents had been sexually harassed. Among these, five of the girls and six of the boys reported they had been sexually assaulted. There are no comparable more recent figures, but the evidence of newspaper reports suggest that it is commonplace for aspiring young athletes to tolerate abuse in the hope of selection as team players for competition.

Misconduct by coaches and sports associations has even forced some athletes to pursue careers elsewhere.

Korean-born speed skater Viktor Ahn won his fourth, fifth and sixth Olympic gold medals for Russia in Sochi. Ahn had earlier won three gold medals as part of the South Korean Olympic team but became a Russian citizen in reaction to his treatment by the Korean Skating Union (KSU).

Preparing for Pyeongchang 2018, South Korea’s Ministry of Culture, Sports, and Tourism is investigating allegations about seven winter sports federations: skating, ice hockey, curling, skiing, biathlon, bobsleigh, and luge. The goal is to eliminate malpractice, rebuild trust, and ensure that no more athletes are forced out of sport in Korea.
 




Asia | Human rights

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