Speed skating is one of Korea’s most prestigious sports
The prized elite world of South Korean speed skating has been mired in scandal following a wave of allegations from female skaters who say that they were sexually abused by their coaches and that it was covered up.
For a country that is a world leader in speed skating, having won 24 Olympic gold medals, this is a serious development. Other sporting federations say they are also now investigating claims of inappropriate behaviour.
Many see this as South Korea’s #MeToo movement finally being taken seriously, even if only through the prism of elite sport.
In the latest development, five unnamed female skaters have come forward accusing their coaches of abuse. One skater alleged that a coach forcibly kissed her and then verbally abused her when she rejected his advances.
The women, represented by a group called Solidarity for Young Skaters (SYS), made their allegations public in a news conference held at South Korea’s parliament on Monday alongside a South Korean lawmaker Sohn Hye-won who has also taken up this cause.
The group said the women chose to remain anonymous because they fear retaliation from those who support their coaches and the wider skating community.
“They are very much afraid of potential retaliation and possible rejection from the community,” Park Ji-hoon, a lawyer for Solidarity for Young Skaters, told the media.
Ms Sohn and the pressure group also called for an investigation into Jun Myung-kyu, the former national team coach and a hugely influential figure in South Korean speed skating, who they accused of concealing misconduct.
Mr Park said Mr Jun’s actions had gone undetected for years because he had “influence over the Korean ice skating community… because [the] community and some politicians have protected him.”
Mr Jun has denied having any prior knowledge of the allegations or that he had knowledge of the abuse that led to one of his coaches being jailed for assault.
“I wasn’t in a position to know everything about alleged sexual assaults,” he told a press conference on Monday.
The SYS group has urged the government to carry out a survey of all athletes in an attempt to root out sexual violence in South Korea’s sporting community.