SEOUL, South Korea (AP) – South Korea’s human rights commission plans to interview possibly thousands of athletes about a culture of abuse in sports after a wave of female athletes came forward to say they had been raped or assaulted by their coaches.
The yearlong investigation will cover 50 sports and include children competing for elementary, middle and high schools, Park Hong-geun, an official from the National Human Rights Commission, said Wednesday.
He said the commission aims to interview all minor and adult athletes competing for scholastic and corporate league teams in speedskating and judo, which have been marred with sexual abuse allegations. The investigation, pushed by dozens of government officials and civilian experts, could start as early as next week and could extend beyond a year if needed. It will be the commission’s largest-ever inquiry into sports.
South Korean competitive sports in recent weeks have been hit by a growing #MeToo movement, which highlights deep-rooted problems over a brutal training culture and highly hierarchical relationships between coaches and athletes.
It began with two-time Olympic short-track speed skating champion Shim Suk-hee accusing her former coach of repeatedly raping her. A group representing speed skating athletes said Monday there were at least five more female skaters saying they were sexually abused by their male coaches, but did not reveal their names because of privacy concerns.
Encouraged by Shim, female athletes in judo, taekwondo, soccer and wrestling have also accused their male coaches of sexual harassment or assault since.
Experts say abusive treatment of female athletes has long been a problem in South Korea’s elite sports, which are predominantly run by men. Athletes often skip school to compete in athletic events and must live in dormitories, giving coaches often-overbearing control and leaving athletes undereducated and more vulnerable.
South Korea has long associated national pride with achievement in the Olympics and other international sporting events, leaving problems overlooked as long as the athletes succeed.