Invisible Verbal Violance… Female Athletes “Suffering in Silence”
Invisible Verbal Violance… Female Athletes “Suffering in Silence”
  • Lee Ga-ram Women’s News reporter / Trans by Nam Wo
  • 승인 2014.01.02 14:14
  • 수정 2014-01-07 10:31
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이 기사를 공유합니다

“Verbal violence is as bad as physical violence”
Despite a reporting system, it is hard to make use it

Every December 10 is globally celebrated as Human Rights Day. Ever since the United Nations (UN) General Assembly adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948, various movements and events to protect human rights have been held every year across the world. As a result, awareness on human rights and the situation has improved; however, there are still many people, especially women, in the blind spots of human rights. In celebration of the 65th Human Rights Day, Women’s News is publishing a special series on “Women in Blind Spots of Human Rights.”


Last July at the Assembly Hall of Seoul Sports Council in Jungnang-gu, Seoul, Seo Jung-ho (right), coach of Seoul City Women’s Football Club, is answering reporters’ questions during a press conference on the gender controversy of Seoul City Women’s Football Club player Park Eun-seon. ⓒ Newsis·Women’s News
Last July at the Assembly Hall of Seoul Sports Council in Jungnang-gu, Seoul, Seo Jung-ho (right), coach of Seoul City Women’s Football Club, is answering reporters’ questions during a press conference on the gender controversy of Seoul City Women’s Football Club player Park Eun-seon. ⓒ Newsis·Women’s News

# Female handball player Sok A-ri (pseudonym) does not like the coach who often blurts out violent expressions. She feels like her heart is in her mouth every time he uses verbal violence and creates an atmosphere of terror. “Bitch” is nothing. Whenever she gain a few pounds, she has to put up with him saying “Stop rolling around and lose weight.” Every time it is so painful that she wants to give up sports, but she can’t because she’s been doing it for more than 10 years. All she can do is to suffer in silence because or else, she won’t be able to participate in a competition.

# Early last month, during a press conference on “player Park Eun-seon’s gender controversy” that was raised by 6 club coaches, Seoul City Women’s Football Club coach Seo Jung-ho said “People make jokes saying ‘hey, are you sure she’s not a guy?’ to outstanding players. That’s okay because it was just a joke. But this is a bigger problem in that coaches actually raised suspicions through official written documents.” Even the coach who appeared to speak for player Park’s human rights considered it ‘okay’ to have those doubts unofficially. This clearly displays how severe verbal violence female athletes are undergoing.

Female athletes are suffering from verbal violence. They cannot even show that they do not like it. Their minds are hurt every time they are sworn at, but they cannot report it. This is especially so because it is unlike physical assault that leaves scars. Furthermore, it is no good to give a bad impression to the coaches since they have complete control over their participation right.

Coaches justify such actions saying it’s necessary for enhancing performance or establishing their authority. Taekwondo coach Shin Pyung-gyun (pseudonym) confessed that he is “habitually using words such as ‘sissy’ and ‘bitch’ towards female players while training” and refuted that “beating must be eradicated but if leaders have to watch out for the language, too, then how will we train them and improve their performance?” He added “isn’t it natural to scold players for not being able to manage themselves and gain weight?”

Verbal violence in the world of sports is critical, but the coaches’ awareness is below common sense. Some even say that not only is the players’ reporting rate very low, but also meddling in how coaches train the players is an infringement on the coaches’ rights. To this, Sok A-ri bitterly said “the people who have to go through abusive language are the players. How could this possibly be an infringement on the coaches’ rights? If you express any signs of dissatisfaction, you might not be able to participate in a competition. That is why most players cannot report the truth.” She added, “It’s a pity that even I, who is going through all this, will also do the same to younger players or when I become a coach.”

The Korea Olympic Committee, which is supposed to protect the players’ rights, says that it is not easy to approach the issue since there are no reports related to “verbal violence.” A person who requested anonymity explained during a phone call with Women’s News that “every year the number of reports is increasing. Cases of human rights infringement that were hidden are now coming to the surface. It is hard to find cases that are not reported, which is why we concentrate on promoting the center every year.”

The Korea Olympic Committee run counseling center for players. Players, on the other hand, raise doubts about the efficacy of reporting system, saying “It doesn’t guarantee anonymity. Athletes’ Human Rights Center under the Korea Olympic Committee provides human rights education to 25,000 coaches and players every year, but there is no evaluation being made on how satisfactory the program is or whether it successfully raises awareness. A player of a less popular sports event raised her voice, saying “No matter how much the Korea Olympic Committee tries, violence will not decrease if the training culture does not change. In order to prevent violence, a more direct and powerful measures must be taken.”


(This photo has no relevance to the article.) ⓒNewsis?Women’s News
(This photo has no relevance to the article.) ⓒNewsis?Women’s News

Human rights experts say that verbal violence is violence just like physical assault and that if victims feel sexually harassed, it could be considered sexual violence as well. Moon Kyung-ran, Chairwoman of Seoul Human Rights Commission, highlighted that “institutionalized verbal violence is a clear infringement on human rights that violates the victim’s personal rights. The coaches and the sports circle must recognize that the players’ mental health is seriously being threatened by verbal violence and must put an effort in preventing recurrence.”

The society is changing. Park Geun-hye administration has declared sexual violence as one of the 4 major threats and is carrying out policies accordingly. Every year, National Human Rights Commission is seeking cooperation from the relevant organizations in order to eradicate violence. The commission registers hundreds of petitions regarding the human rights violation due to violent language. And for sexual harassment cases in workplaces, which is no different from sexual harassment among players within teams, more than 100 of them were recommended to make corrections. This clearly shows that the society is becoming more sensitive to verbal violence inflicted through authority. 

Nevertheless the world of sports is numb as ever. Coaches refuse to change their stance, insisting that verbal violence is inevitable for improving performance. Korea Olympic Committee returns passive response, just waiting for reports from victims. Meanwhile, the human rights of female athletes are being ignored due the sad truth: the ignorance of coaches and indifference of relevant organizations.

This is the last article of the series “Women in blind spots of human rights.”

Women’s News special series - Women in blind spots of human rights

1. “You menstruate, too?” They are Still Women despite Disabilities

2. Female North Korean Defectors who are Lost, “What Human Rights? I’d Rather be a Refugee”

3. Sexual Violence is Hierarchical? Distorted ‘Sexual Disciplines’ in Military

4. Invisible Verbal Violance… Female Athletes “Suffering in Silence”

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