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[Editorial] Uproot bullying in sports

Coaches, athletes mst reject old idea that violence is sometimes necessary

Four professional volleyball players were suspended for past bullying after their former middle and high school teammates spoke out. They were also excluded from the national teams.

Twin sisters Lee Jae-yeong and Lee Da-yeong of the Heungkuk Life Pink Spiders admitted to allegations of physical, verbal and emotional abuse raised by an online poster claiming to be a former middle school teammate. This news was shocking, as the Lees are popular players who led the South Korean women’s volleyball team in winning a ticket to the Tokyo Olympics.

Since then, two volleyball players on the men’s team OK Financial Group Okman -- Song Myung-geun and Sim Kyoung-sub -- have also been accused of school bullying. A former classmate claimed he had been assaulted by Song in high school and by Sim in middle school. The OK Financial Group acknowledged the bullying and apologized.

Violence in sports is nothing new. It often surfaces, like a chronic disease. Coaches beat athletes and call it training. Senior athletes bully junior teammates under the pretext of tightening discipline. Coaches turn a blind eye. When junior athletes become seniors and senior athletes become coaches, they throw punches or wield weapons just as their predecessors did. Violence is inherited.

In July last year, Korean triathlete Choi Suk-hyeon killed herself after revealing that she had endured years of beatings and harassment by members of the coaching staff and that sporting authorities had ignored her complaints.

Former short-track speed skating coach Cho Jae-beom was jailed for 10 1/2 years last month for sexually assaulting Olympic gold medalist Shim Suk-hee.

Whenever a problem comes to light, sporting authorities come up with new measures, such as installing surveillance cameras and establishing a center devoted to human rights issues in sports. But violence in sports continues, and most of the time it goes unnoticed.

Public fury is simmering over the volleyball players’ unmasked past. A petition registered on the website of the presidential office argued that the popular twin sisters should be expelled from the sport permanently. More than 100,000 people agreed.

According to a nationwide survey of student athletes, released by the National Human Rights Commission of Korea in October last year, 14.7 percent said they had experienced physical violence. Of the middle and high school student athletes who had experienced violence, 79.6 percent had taken no action, let alone lodging complaints. They cited fear of retaliation.

School violence leaves victims with lifelong trauma. Most victims are said to have quit sports for good or have difficulty adjusting later in life. This misfortune stems from a deep-rooted perception in the sports community that if an athlete is a winner, nothing else matters.

This perception predominates especially in elite sports. Winning medals at an international meet is the supreme mission that must be accomplished at any cost. So long as athletes and coaches are obsessed with this mentality, abuse by athletes will be tolerated. Elite athletes, professional players and related authorities should take this opportunity to look into suspicions of violence thoroughly.

In the past, there were no channels enabling victims to reveal misconduct by coaches and teammates. Now, social media plays that role. The latest revelations went viral on social media. Past wrongdoing may come to light anytime. The assailants may have forgotten the bullying, but the victims always remember it.

People have become sensitive to violence in sports. They do not accept bullying in sport as a necessary evil any longer, no matter how stellar the athlete’s performance. Bullying is a crime that should have no place in school sports.

Keeping this in mind, coaches and athletes must try to get rid of the old perception that it is sometimes inevitable to be beaten to make a better showing in sports. In addition, it is important to keep improving training methods and foster an atmosphere where athletes feel free to report violence without worrying about retaliation.