South Korea to launch major investigation of sex abuse in sport

Up to 30,000 people to be interviewed in year-long probe, South Korea's largest ever.

    Athletes from various sport, including judo and archery, have come forward with accounts of assault and sexual abuse [File: Achmad Ibrahim/AP]
    Athletes from various sport, including judo and archery, have come forward with accounts of assault and sexual abuse [File: Achmad Ibrahim/AP]

    South Korea will hold its largest ever investigation into sexual abuse in sport after an Olympic speedskating star accused her former coach of abuse and triggered a wave of similar accounts from athletes.

    The inquiry will aim to address "systematic, sustained" abuse in sports, which had been hushed up for generations by victims afraid of being banished from their sport, said Choi Young-ae, chairwoman of the National Human Rights Commission, on Tuesday.

    "We will conduct a fact-finding inquiry that will be the largest in scale ever," Choi said at a news conference in Seoul.

    A commission official said up to about 30,000 people - athletes from all games, coaches, officials and others - are likely to be interviewed over the course of the year-long investigation. 

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    Choi said for too long victims had not spoken out because of a "results-centred culture focussed on medals".

    An "independent, constant, national surveillance system" would be established to gather data, conduct inquiries and educate officials on human rights, she said.

    Investigators could look into cases without requiring an initial accusation, and take measures, including protection for victims and referring cases quickly to police and prosecutors, a spokesperson for the commission said.

    Shameful tarnish

    The #MeToo movement has taken off belatedly in male-dominated South Korea where discussion of sexual misconduct has long been a taboo.

    But the issue exploded in the world of sport after Shim Suk-hee, 21, accused her former coach, Cho Jae-beom, of raping her for years.

    Cho, a former national short track speedskating coach, had already been convicted of assaulting the two-time Olympic champion - punching and kicking her during training - and jailed for 10 months in September.

    In December, Shim made accusations of sexual abuse against him. Cho denied the accusation, media cited his lawyer as saying. 

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    On Monday, the group Solidarity for Young Skaters announced that it had found five more skaters who had been sexually abused by their coaches. Other athletes from various games, including judo and archery, have also come forward with accounts of assault and sexual abuse.

    President Moon Jae-in said last week the spate of accounts of abuse was a shameful tarnish on South Korea's "bright image as a sports powerhouse", and called for a thorough investigation and strict punishments.

    The commission, noting that it had carried out an investigation into the abuse of student-athletes in 2008, said it would work to end a "nothing changes" culture.

     

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera and news agencies