South Korea launches investigation into abuse in sport

Officials in South Korea will interview thousands of adult and child athletes about a culture of alleged abuse in sports, following a series of dramatic revelations from female skaters.

Last week, an 18-year-old skater told CNN how she was physically and sexually abused by coaches throughout much of her career. She came forward with the allegations after multiple Olympic gold medalist Shim Suk-hee accused a former coach of raping her.

“The recent series of testimonies about violence and sexual assault in the sports industry represent our shame that has been hidden beneath the glorious appearance of Korea as a sports powerhouse,” South Korean President Moon Jae-in said after Shim’s revelations.

On Tuesday, South Korea’s human rights commission said it would open an investigation into the matter, covering 50 sports and including both child and adult athletes across a range of levels.

“The seriousness of assaults including sexual assaults in the industry has reached a situation that can no longer be overlooked,” commission chairwoman Choi Young-ae told reporters. “It’s a crucial time to establish a fundamental and comprehensive improvement plan, rather than a temporary one.”

Whistle blowers have long pointed to the culture of South Korean sports — particularly elite Olympic sports — as cultivating abuse. Yeo Jun-hyung, a former skater and coach, set up a support group for young skaters because he said accusations were repeatedly swept under the rug by officials and sports associations.

“Associations are more about serving the needs of executives and coaches,” Yeo told CNN.

Last week, Lee Kee-heung, head of the Korean Sport and Olympic Committee, apologized to athletes, the public and businesses who supported the sports industry, blaming “systemic flaws” for repeated abuse being allowed to continue.

“We will root out the practice of coaches having absolute control over the future of their athletes and abusing that power,” Lee said.

While sexual assault allegations received the most media attention, numerous other athletes spoke of being physically and verbally abused by their coaches.

“Inside the sports world, people think violence and verbal abuse are natural, athletes too. Even if they get hurt and find it hard, people don’t speak up about it,” the 18-year-old skater said.