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Twin volleyball stars' bullying scandal reveals dark side of elite sports in S. Korea Updated: 2021-02-16 13:35:40 KST

They've plummeted from the top of South Korean women's pro volleyball to the potential end of their careers.
Lee Jae-young and Lee Da-young have been suspended indefinitely without pay from their club and kicked off the national team after admitting to having physically and emotionally abused their middle school teammates.
The violence isn't limited to just volleyball though.
It's present and deeply rooted in most team sports in the country.

"Back when I played, some of my older teammates threw completely frozen water bottles at me and even hit me with a piece of wood. I'd end up with bad bruises on my butt and thighs."

Once a victim himself, the former athlete laments that the physical and verbal abuse going on in schools is ignored by some coaches on purpose.

"Of course coaches turned a blind eye. It's because athletic performance is valued above everything else And because they themselves were abused by their own seniors growing up, coaches think its okay for students to abuse their juniors."

But why does such a toxic culture exist?
Experts say it's a structural issue that the system in which elite sports operate is flawed.

"Many elite athletes in Korea live together in dorms, and they don't get to interact much with other students. This culture creates a blind spot in terms of human rights. All the irrational, inhumane acts happening in this bubble don't come to the surface and it leads to a sort of tacit acceptance."

Professor Chung says that what's needed to end the violence is an institutional approach.
One way to start, he says, could be to strengthen the role of the recently launched Korea Sports Ethics Center as a safe haven where victims can share their struggles and get professional help.
Han Seong-woo, Arirang News.
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