With allegations raised by Olympic short track champion Shim Suk-hee that she’d been sexually assaulted by her former coach, the ugly truth of the nation’s sports community is being laid bare. The Korean Sport & Olympic Committee (KSOC) said that 136 cases of sexual violence were reported last year. Yeo Jun-hyung, head of the Solidarity for Young Skaters, said Thursday that he has “received reports on a half dozen suspected cases of sexual violence in skating, and in two cases, victims themselves confirmed that they had been sexually assaulted.” The assault allegations revealed by the Olympic gold medalist has sent shock waves through the nation, and it is almost dreadful when we think of how many other athletes including young, aspiring skaters have been subjected to such serious crimes.
Individual sports organizations, the KSOC, and the Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism have practically neglected their duty to protect athletes. The stenographic records of the KSOC Athletes’ Committee, which was held to determine disciplinary measures for the head coach of a semi-professional short track team who was convicted of sexual misconduct in February 2016, include quotes that leave one dumbfounded. “Please consider that it can be your younger or older brother that’s coaching the team,” the committee said. “Coaches or head coaches may touch athletes on the shoulder (when coaching).” The head coach was not permanently expelled but had his qualification suspended for three years.
Athletes’ distrust in the KSOC is clearly evidenced by the fact that only four cases of sexual violence have been received by the Clean Sports Center that the nation’s top sports body has operated since 2017. The Culture and Sports Ministry should be also held accountable. Even though it found out during last year’s audit of the KSOC that the organization had disregarded reports of violence and sexual misconduct, the government merely demanded disciplinary measures, not taking further actions. No wonder that victims of sexual assault in the sports community have remained tightlipped in fear.
The sports community has a power structure that makes it difficult for victims to seek justice. Saying no to a coach’s unjust demands can threaten their future career. Across sports, coaches, and senior and junior athletes are all in a closed society based on apprenticeship and obsessed with results. Under the current system, coaches, athletes, and their parents implicitly agree that even violence can be tolerated if they can get good results. In addition, camp and off-season training, which usually takes place in an isolated location, also makes is hard to protect athletes from violence. The Culture and Sports Ministry has said that it will launch a full investigation into sexual violence and expand the scope of crimes subject to permanent expulsion. Though belated, the government should revise the composition of sports organizations and improve training environments. Most of all, the sports community needs to reflect and correct itself unless it wants another competent athlete falls victim to crimes.