by Nick Butler
March 28, 2014 (ISN) – South Korea’s national curling assistant coach Choi Min-suk has offered to resign over allegations he verbally abused members of the women’s Olympic team.
This comes after the five curlers who represented South Korea in Sochi: Kim Ji-sun, Gim Un-chi, Shin Mi-sung, Um Min-ji and Lee Seul-bee, threatened to leave their semi-professional club at the Gyeonggi Provincial Government in protest over alleged abuse by head coach Chung Young-sup and assistant Choi.
Provincial Government officials spoke to four of the curlers and their family members late last night and had a four-hour meeting with Choi today, during which they found he once verbally berated the team during a competition in 2012.
According to the officials, Choi was giving a pep talk before the final at the World University Games in Italy when he yelled, “you should all be serious about this or you might as well all quit”.
Choi also admitted to telling the curlers, “Do you like that I am holding your hand?” before insisting that he did not mean to sexually harass the athletes but offered to apologise if it was construed that way.
Head coach Chung was cleared of any wrongdoing.
The five curlers and two coaches all represented South Korea at the Games in Sochi last month.
Although the squad were knocked out after the round robin stage, they finished in a creditable eighth place on their Olympic debut in a performance it is thought will boost the profile of the sport in the country.
Earlier this month the five curlers teamed up again and reached the semi-finals at the World Championships in Canada.
Officials at both the national federation and at Gyeonggi Provincial Government said they have not yet confirmed whether the five athletes are now considering leaving the team.
Another aspect of the complaint concerned prize money, with Choi insisting they had been asked to donate a proportion of the money earned at the Olympics and World Championships to help buy equipment for curling teams at middle and high schools.
Two of the curlers opposed the idea, and they told officials the coach had scolded them for being selfish
“We apologise for such a disgraceful incident that happened just as curling was gaining popularity,” said Hwang Jeong-eun, a spokeswoman for the Provincial Government.
“We will look deeper into when these problems first occurred.”
The case revives memories of another in South Korea following the London 2012 Paralympics, when national boccia coach Kim Jin-han was investigated by the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) after accusations of the abuse of athletes.
This came after team captain Ji Kwang-min filed a complaint on the grounds that Kim had beaten athletes and thrown equipment at athletes during the Games.
The family of Ji, who has cerebral palsy, also claimed 42-year-old Kim had beaten him regularly since 2010 and had stolen up to one million won (£550/$900/€700) at a time from him on several occasions.
Like during that case, the latest allegations offer cause for concern about the whole structure of South Korean sport, particularly as they are hosting the next Winter Olympic and Paralympic Games in Pyeongchang in 2018.