Calls are growing for the truth behind the suicide of a promising triathlete late last month, amid allegations she had repeatedly been abused by team officials.
Five public petitions regarding the death of Choi Sook-hyun, posted on the website of the presidential office, together garnered more than 58,400 signatures by 5 p.m. Thursday, less than a day after they were posted.
“Another unfortunate accident occurred, and we can’t help but ask until when we should be seeing the inhumane behavior of the athletic circles,” one of the petitions reads. “The authorities should promptly work to verify the details of this incident, and if acts of cruelty were found to have happened, related parties must be punished.”
Choi, 22, died on June 26 in Busan. Just before taking her life, she messaged her mother expressing her love, then adding, “Please reveal their sins.”
According to the bereaved family, the athlete, who joined the national team in 2015 while still in high school, had for years suffered physical and mental abuse from her coach, doctor and teammates on the Gyeongju team, to which Choi belonged for most of her athletic career.
The family released purported audio recordings of the abuse. In one, a male voice shouts, “Clamp your jaw together,” followed by slapping sounds.
Choi’s father claimed that Choi was once forced to buy 200,000 won ($167) of bread and pastries and eat it all in one sitting as a penalty for gaining weight.
The deceased had filed criminal complaints against the coach, doctor and teammates in February and two months later also submitted her report to the Korean Sport & Olympic Committee and Korea Triathlon Federation. But she was frustrated by the lack of progress.
Rep. Lee Yong of the opposition United Future Party, former head coach of the Korean bobsled team and a member of the National Assembly Culture, Sports and Tourism Committee, said that no officials or entities paid attention to Choi’s cries for help, calling for a comprehensive investigation into the case and the punishment of those involved.
Prosecutors at the Daegu District Prosecutors’ Office are now looking into Choi’s death as well as the abuse claims. According to local reports, two more triathletes have said they were also physically abused by their team coach and other officials.
Korea Triathlon Federation President Park Suk-won vowed to implement needed measures as promptly as possible. “The association is taking this case very seriously,” he said in a statement.
The Korean Sport & Olympic Committee said it had dispatched an inspector to look into the case after it was reported to the organization in early April and has been cooperating with the prosecution since June 1.
“We are also reviewing an investigation into the possible attempt to conceal the case at the Clean Sports Center and the Gyeongsangbukdo Sports Council,” the committee said in a statement.
By Ko Jun-tae (firstname.lastname@example.org