SKorean officials vow to look into triathlete’s abuse claims


Seoul, South Korea (AP) – Leading South Korean officials on Monday offered a public apology and promised to investigate the death of a triathlete who had reported to the government and sports bodies that she had been abused by her trainer, physiotherapist and colleagues.

Choi Suk-hyeon, 22, was found dead late last month after sending a mobile chat message asking her mother to publicize the alleged crimes of people who abused her. Later, there was public outrage after media reports that the authorities did not act quickly, although Choi registered petitions about the alleged abuses with various government and sporting bodies.

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On Monday, Sports Minister Park Yang-woo said at a parliamentary committee meeting that he "feels great responsibility" for his death and apologized to the bereaved family and the South Korean public.

Deputy Sports Minister Choi Yoon-hee said at the same meeting that a 20-member investigation team was launched last week to find out why the authorities did not adequately respond to the athlete's petitions and whether the support or supervisory bodies sports activities worked on the case appropriately. way.

"We will investigate thoroughly," said the deputy minister. "We will severely punish those" responsible for Choi Suk-hyeon's death.

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During the parliamentary meeting, the team coach, identified by lawmakers as Kim Kyu-bong, and two athletes accused of abusing Choi said they had never beaten or abused her.

The cause of Choi's death was considered suicide. State prosecutors are investigating separately the allegations of abuse she made before her death, according to the Korean Olympic and Sports Committee.

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Last week, the governing body of the world triathlon expressed its shock at Choi's death and asked the local South Korean triathlon federation and the Olympic committee to share information about his case.

The alleged abuses occurred when Choi belonged to a team led by the local government in the southeastern city of Gyeongju.

The previous Monday, two of his former teammates told reporters that they and Choi were beaten and verbally abused and others by their team coach, physiotherapist and senior teammates. One said she and Choi were forced to eat 200,000 won ($ 167) in bread until dawn, as a punishment for gaining weight.

The two women asked that their names not be revealed, citing concerns that media advertising would harm their private lives.

Choi, junior bronze medalist at the 2015 Asian Triathlon Championship, was chosen for the first time in the national team in 2015, while still in high school. His last big race was in October, when he finished the South Korean championship in 14th place.

The abusive treatment of athletes has been a problem deeply rooted in South Korea, which considers achievements at the Olympics and other international sporting events as a national pride. Athletes generally live in dorms, where coaches generally exercise dominant control and skip school from a young age to perform well at sporting events, leaving them with less education and career options, which makes it difficult to resist unfair treatment, Experts say.

In recent years, South Korean athletes, fighters and judo athletes and taekwondo players have accused their coaches of sexually abusing them. Members of the Olympic curling team, winners of the country's silver medals, applauded the Garlic Girls for their hometown's famous products, accused their former coaches of verbal abuse and withholding cash prizes.

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