Skating on Thin Ice

January 15, 2014

Sexual harassment case, nepotism accusations torment Korea Skating Union

Sochi-2014(4)

By Jung Min-ho

The Korea Skating Union (KSU) finds itself in disarray ― yet again ― weeks ahead of the Sochi Winter Olympics.

A coach of the short-track speed skating team was suspended last week following accusations that he sexually harassed a female trainee in 2012. Now, Asian Skating Union President Chang Myong-hi has come out and blasted the national body, claiming that the highly hierarchical organization has entirely lost the ability to police itself.

Asian Skating Union President Chang Myong-hi speaks Tuesday at a press conferernce. Chang criticized the Korea Skating Union for its deep-rooted nepotism, which was highlighted by a recent sexual harassment scandal by a national short-track speed skating team coach.  (Yonhap)

Asian Skating Union President Chang Myong-hi speaks Tuesday at a press conferernce. Chang criticized the Korea Skating Union for its deep-rooted
nepotism, which was highlighted by a recent sexual harassment scandal by a national short-track speed skating team coach. (Yonhap)

In an abruptly scheduled news conference, Tuesday, Chang described the KSU as a corrupt organization ruled by nepotism. At the center of the problem is a certain high-ranking official who dictates the decision-making process, he claimed.

While Chang didn’t name that person, observers interpreted his words as an apparent attack on KSU Vice Chairman Jeong Myung-kyu, also a professor at the Korea National Sports University.

“He holds sway over the organization like an emperor, giving perks to his followers and disadvantages those against him,’’ Chang said. He pointed out that key KSU positions are filled with graduates from the Korea National Sports University, which also has a significant share of its athletes representing the country in international events.

“It is not an environment where someone can speak up for the right thing.’’

Critics have blasted the way the KSU has handled the sexual harassment case surrounding the coach. While the coach was belatedly suspended, despite the incident being known in the skating community for quite a long time, the KSU has yet to make a decision on whether he should be expelled. It held a disciplinary committee meeting on Sunday, but failed to decide on anything meaningful, not even the date of the next meeting.

People familiar with the KSU say that the organization will be unable to clean up its act until it fully commits to combat its culture of nepotism. According to many insiders, the KSU had hired the coach although its officials had known about his history, and clearly expected him to coach Korean athletes at Sochi until journalists found out about the allegations.

“The emperor” is not part of the disciplinary committee, Chang said, making it meaningless because all committee members and even the coach are his cronies.

This isn’t the first time the KSU has been accused of lacking transparency. Viktor Ahn (Ahn Hyun-soo), a three-time Olympic gold medalist for Korea, became a Russian citizen in 2011 after failing to be picked for the 2010 Vancouver Olympics. He said the KSU’s decision not to pick him for the Vancouver team was based on something other than his ability as an athlete.

A KSU official claimed the organization wasn’t aware of the coach’s past allegations. “We will launch an investigation and seriously deal with the situation,” said the official, noting that the committee will also hold any others involved accountable.

But, another KSU official said the organization will try to ensure national team athletes are not distracted, but hiring a new coach now will be difficult.

At another media conference on Wednesday, Kim Chong, vice minister of culture, sports and tourism, said he will set up “systematic measures” devoted specifically to sex crimes in cooperation with Ministry of Gender Equality & Family sometime this year.

Timing couldn’t be worse with the Sochi Olympics less than a month away.

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