The implications of the power and authority that coaches have on their athletes, especially within high performance and elite sport, is a hot topic in current sport discourse. This power can often be exploited, and sadly, we see an increasing number of cases of sexual harassment or abuse towards athletes by their coaches. Many high status coaches get away with abuse and misconduct purely because their athletes feel trapped in their athletic identity and fear the consequences of reporting their coach (having to quit sport, losing their career success, etc.). Coaches have a “powerful grip” over the organization that employs them, and even when the organization knows of the misconduct, it often is brushed under the rug because the coach is needed to produce winning results.
Ignited by the increasing growth of the #MeToo movement, South Korea has recently released this article highlighting just how severe and widespread this issue is in the realm of sport. Often, we see primarily individual cases of sexual abuse, however, in this case a wave of athletes in South Korea came forward to report their abusers. This began with an accusation by Olympic short-track speed skater Shim Suk-hee against her coach, who repeatedly raped her since the age of 17. This caused several other speed skaters to also present their accusations. In South Korea, and arguably in many other countries, accomplishment and achievement is placed above everything else in sport. This makes the culture of violence common and it perpetuates abusive behaviours in authority figures in sport.
Fortunately, the Human Rights Commission of South Korea is placing more emphasis on this issue of abuse, and is beginning to conduct interviews with thousands of athletes (primarily speed skating and judo athletes) regarding coaching and staff abuse of athletes. This is a huge step for the inquiry into abuse in sport, as it is noted as “the commission’s largest-ever inquiry into sports.” Hopefully, in the near future things will take a turn for the better, with more athletes feeling brave enough to report incidents as such, and changing the current culture of abuse in elite sport. Hopefully this “widespread fear of challenging powerful coaches” can be abolished once and for all.
FEATURED IMAGE: Shim Suk-hee of South Korea; alleged she was raped by her coach