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(EDITORIAL from Korea Times on July 7)

All News 07:00 July 07, 2020

Death of triathlete
Violence in sports must not be condoned under any circumstances

A young triathlete took her own life June 26 after enduring years of abuse by her coach, physiotherapist and teammates. Right before her death, Choi Sook-hyun, 22, sent a message to her mother expressing her love and saying, "Please reveal their sins."

Her final words seemed to illustrate a frustration at the lack of action after she lodged numerous complaints about violence. On Monday, two ex-teammates from the Gyeongju City Hall triathlon team came forward to confirm the late Choi's testimony, documented in recordings and training logs she left behind. The two teammates also spoke of their abuse at the hands of the coach, the captain and the team physiotherapist. A coalition of sports and civic groups also held a press conference, calling for an independent panel be set up to look into the case.

But appearing before the National Assembly Culture, Sports and Tourism Committee on Monday, the coach and two suspect teammates denied physically assaulting or verbally abusing the late Choi.

In February, Choi filed criminal complaints with the police against her coach, physiotherapist and teammates on the team to which she had belonged. In April, she also filed complaints with the Korea Triathlon Federation and the Korean Sports & Olympic Committee (KSOC). But her cries for help were ignored.

She was forced to buy 200,000 won ($167) worth of bread and pastries and eat them all in one sitting as a "penalty for gaining weight." She was also abused by the team physiotherapist for not reporting that she had eaten a peach for breakfast. In one recording, a male voice is heard saying, "Come here. Clamp your jaws together," which was followed by the sound of slapping.

It's deplorable that the physical assaults, verbal abuse and harassment could occur. These entrenched evils are still raging in the world of Korean sports. Last year, the sports ministry and the KSOC unveiled measures to uproot violence after skater Shim Suk-hee stated she had been physically and sexually abused by her coach. Less than a year and a half later, this tragic incident has happened.

Our sports organizations and law enforcement authorities are belatedly addressing the death of the triathlete. The National Assembly's standing committee also called in Culture, Sports and Tourism Minister Park Yang-woo and KSOC chief Lee Ki-heung, blasting them for the tragedy. The Korea Triathlon Federation has also begun investigations into the case.

A thorough probe into Choi's death should be conducted and all perpetrators should be punished severely. Violence in sports should not be condoned under any circumstances. But it will be impossible to solve problems of this kind fundamentally without changing our age-old practice of allowing abusive training methods.

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