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South Korea: female athletes' shocked suicide showing culture of abuse and violence.

16:43 | 18/07/2020

Choi Suk-Hyeon - a rising star of South Korean Sport, suicided a week ago as she was allegedly abused by her coach team, raising doubts about South Korean team culture.  

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According to SCMP, Choi Sook-Hyeon (22 years old, triathlon athlete of Gyeongju team) committed suicide last week after filing a complaint about being violent and abused from the "hands" of her trainer and doctor.

The Choi family said the young girl was frustrated and angry when the police investigation process did not make any progress. A lot of Choi's colleagues refused to testify, apparently for fear of retribution.

south korea female athletes shocked suicide showing culture of abuse and violence
Choi Sook-Hyeon. Photo: SCMP

Just after midnight on June 26, Choi Suk-Hyeon, a promising South Korean triathlete, sent two text messages. The first, to a teammate, asked for help looking after her pet dog. The other, to her mother, was more ominous, according to New York Times.

In that message Ms. Choi, 22, told her mother how much she loved her, before adding: “Mom, please make the world know the crimes they have committed.”

After her suicide, her family released her diary and recordings that the young triathlete documented years of physical and psychological abuse she said she suffered at the hands of her team’s coach, doctor and two senior teammates.

The recording - one of the evidence published by YTN TV - shows that Choi was repeatedly beaten, verbally abused and mentally harassed by her team of coaches, doctors and seniors.

“Hey! Lock your jaws! Come here ”a male voice said, followed by a slap. “I will teach you a lesson if you are still sulky tomorrow! OK? ”

In her diary, Choi said she cried every day, and felt that it would be better to die than be hit "like a dog".

“She had been stressed out lately because the officials she appealed to acted as if some beating and abuse should be taken for granted in the sport,” said Ms. Choi's father, Choi Young-hee. The authorities, he said, told Ms. Choi “that the accused denied any wrongdoing and that they didn’t have enough evidence to act, even though ​we gave them the audio files.”

Choi was even fined by spending 200,000 won to buy bread and eat all of them at once because of her negligence to gain weight.

south korea female athletes shocked suicide showing culture of abuse and violence
Choi was considered a potential athlete, when she was selected for the triathlon national team in 2015, at the age of 17. Photo: SCMP

On Monday, the Korea Triathlon Federation banned the coach, Kim Gyu-bong, and ​the team captain, Jang Yun-jeong, from the sport​ for life​. Prosecutors were also preparing criminal charges against them, as well as Mr. Ahn Ju-hyeon, the team's doctor, according to New York Times.

Choi's death angered Korean netizens. Some people have revealed that this is a common issue for Korean athletes to experience violence, as coaches believe that "it is necessary to win a medal".

In a statement, the Korean Triathlon Federation pledged to take action against the abusers and also expressed condolences to the Choi family.

The Korea Sports and Olympic Committee said an investigation was being conducted to verify the allegations that the security agency had ignored Choi's complaint and tried to cover up the suspect.

Choi's death after years of abuse has been reminiscent of the case of Shim Suk-hee - the Olympic gold medalist skater - accusing him of mental, physical and sexual harassment in the past year 2018.

Both the Korean Olympic and Sports Committee and the Korean Skating Federation made a public apology at that time, and vowed to urge the reform.

However, according to Yeo Jun-hyung (a human rights activist), violence is still very common in the sports industry, as athletes fear they will retire from their careers when they speak out the misconducts.

"The coaches know this and still take advantage of the athletes' silence," Yeo said.

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