At the start of this year, South Korea’s double Olympic short track speed skating gold medallist Shim Suk-hee alleged that she had been raped and sexually molested on multiple occasions by her former national coach, Cho Jae-beom. Cho is now serving a 10 month prison sentence for physically assaulting Shim and other athletes, but denies sexually assaulting Shim. The allegations have, however, led to other South Korean female athletes in judo, taekwondo, football and wrestling coming forward with allegations that they have also been raped or assaulted by their coaches. As a result, South Korea’s National Human Rights Commission has now announced that it will look to interview around 30,000 adult and child athletes as part of an investigation into the alleged abusive culture within sports. This investigation, which is the Commission’s largest ever inquiry into sports, will cover 50 sports and is expected to last at least a year. It aims to address ‘systematic, sustained abuse’.
After a previous inquiry into school sports, in 2010 the Commission recommended safeguards to the Korean Sport and Olympic Committee (KOC), including instructions and proposals for preventing abuse and providing better education. The Chairwoman of the Commission, Choi Young-ae, has criticised the KOC for ignoring these guidelines for years. Choi added that “physical and sexual violence in [South Korean] sports does not happen incidentally, but is generated consistently under a structure” and that “a culture that puts medals and other awards over everything else has been exonerating violent behaviours and such violence has been closely associated with the sexual violence that occurs.”
This report from South Korea follows reports from Afghanistan from the end of last year, when football’s governing body, FIFA, said that it was investigating claims made by members of the Afghanistan national women’s football team that they were sexually and physically abused by male coaches and members of the country’s football federation. The Afghan Attorney General’s Office has also announced its own investigation.
In the meantime, in France, Vincent Leroyer, a former champion swimmer, has been sentenced to 12 years in prison on five counts of sexual abuse and one of rape, on boys aged between six and 14. The offences occurred in the 1980s and 1990s whilst Leroyer was the coach of a championship winning ice hockey team. His offences followed a commonly seen pattern of worming his way into the trust of the victims’ families, preying in particular on families where marital difficulties led to the absence of the boys’ fathers. His offers to help, including taking boys to sports events, for meals, and even on holidays, were gratefully accepted out of trust and/or necessity.
Finally, closer to home, an independent review commissioned by the Lawn Tennis Association (LTA) has reported that the LTA failed for five years to act strongly enough on repeated warnings about the behaviour of Wales based tennis coach, Daniel Sanders. Sanders pleaded guilty in June 2017 to eight sexual offences committed against a girl below the age of 16 and was sentenced to six years in prison. The independent review also concluded that as a result of its new processes the LTA’s safeguarding team is now much better placed to deal with such cases.
Authored by Partner David Milton