“World Triathlon is deeply saddened and shocked to hear of the death of South Korean triathlete Choi Suk-hyeon who, according to media reports, ‘took her own life after enduring years of abuse,'” the statement reads.
The 22-year-old athlete had been competing as part of the national team since 2015 and killed herself last week, according to news reports. In 2016 she finished fourth at the Korean Triathlon National Championships, but was 14th at last year’s nationals on October 8, 2019.
The AFT news agency reported that Choi complained to the Korean Sport and Olympic Committee (KSOC) in April asking for an investigation. Her parents allege that she was “subject to beatings, verbal abuse and harassment by members of the coaching staff,” the BBC reported earlier this morning.
According to a story by the Yonhap News Agency, before Choi complained to the KSOC she “filed abuse charges against the head coach of her semi-pro club at Gyeongju City Hall in Gyeongju, 370 kilometres southeast of the capital, a team physician and two of her older teammates in February.”
“In late May, Gyeongju police forwarded Choi’s case to the prosecution and recommended indictment on charges of assault and extortion,” the report continues. “Daegu District Public Prosecutors Office said Thursday that it has been investigating the case and will soon interrogate those facing abuse allegations.”
An online petition is calling for a “thorough investigation” into Choi’s death – the two friends who started the petition say that “Choi’s calls for help had fallen on deaf ears.”
According to a story posted on Gulf News, in “widely-circulated screenshots of her last text message conversation with her mother, she begged her to “lay bare the sins” of her abusers.”
Various South Korean media outlets say that Choi had audio recordings of abuse by her coaches.
Gulf News reports: “In one file broadcast by cable news station YTN, her coach was furious she had put on weight: ‘You have to avoid eating for three days,’ he said. ‘You promised me you would take responsibility.’ Then he told her: ‘Clench your teeth,’ followed by a sound of a sharp slap.”
According to the Yonhap News Agency story, the “Gyeongju Sports Association on Thursday suspended the triathlon head coach from his duties for his lack of oversight.”
“World Triathlon has immediately contacted the South Korean Triathlon Federation and the South Korean Olympic Committee to gather all the information available on this case,” today’s statement from the world governing body continued. “The World Triathlon Safeguarding and Anti-Harassment Group has also contacted the Korean Federation to make sure that while the investigation is carried out, all Korean triathletes are protected and safe.”
The Korea Triathlon Federation says it will “open disciplinary proceedings next Monday” and will start “a special investigative team.”