The continuing scandal over sexual violence committed by women’s basketball coaches against their own athletes, first broken last month and then revived last week, has been having considerable effects on girls’ basketball across the country. A Sports Hankook writer recently assessed the situation and called for the WKBL to grab hold of the situation by implementing reforms including stronger punishments.
Last May Lee Sang-yun, head coach of Keumho Life Insurance in the WKBL, seemed to have no need to make up new business cards, because at the time the scandal over Woori Bank head coach Park Myeong-su’s sexual assaults of his players had not yet broken and no wary eyes had fallen over the coaches in women’s basketball. Those wary eyes now continue their gaze. With the broadcast of “Sports and Sexual Assault Human Rights Report” revealing the situation of sexual assault in sports, coaches being recruited to women’s basketball teams are worried and confused. The actions of a few immoral coaches have thrown a harsh light onto all the rest and they are not happy about it. Parents are reluctant to let their children join a team and middle school girls’ basketball teams are having trouble filling their rosters. The foundations of women’s basketball are melting away. Samsung Life Insurance head coach Jeong Deok-hwa said, “the more watched we are the more difficult things get. I worry that when I have individual meetings with players I have to do it in the open to avoid misunderstandings and lawsuits.” People ask him, “you think I’m going to let my kids play basketball?”, making him feel like a criminal. Keumho Life Insurance head coach Lee Sang-yun feels the same. Currently in his debut season in the WKBL, he said, “one day my wife told me her friends jokingly told her to be careful about her husband. I was worried that they thought I’m just like coach Park Myeong-su.” But middle school coaches are feeling the heat even more. Parents who watched the broadcast don’t want their daughters playing basketball, and teams are having trouble recrutiing enough players. Shim Jae-gyun, coach of the basketball team at Hongnong Middle School in Yeonggwang, said, “I scout the players but it’s getting tough. There are good players among the kids graduating from elementary school but to scout them I have to spend six months persuading their parents… since the broadcast older people treat me like a criminal.” Kim Jin-hong, who until February was a basketball coach at Sungui Girls’ High School, said, “parents want to have a female coach so many players have moved to Seonil Girls’ Middle school because they have one. Many limits are put on my scouting of players. I can’t really disagree with the feelings of the parents.” Lee Ho-geun, who has been coaching for seven years and is currently with Dongkuk University, has two daughters who play basketball. His 12-year old daughter Min-ji plays forward at Seonil Girls’ Middle School. He said, “if the parents can’t trust the coaches there is no way they can let their kids play.” But there have been parents who trusted wrongly, and athletes bearing the pain of sexual assault. But everything cannot change at once. Sexual violence has not been eradicated from a sports world un-meddled in by teams, leagues, organizations and society itself and coaches who have not committed a crime will continue to be treated as if they have. The teams, which have put highest priority on protecting their images, have to come up with an effective way to reduce sexual violence. If they can’t come up with a concrete anti-sexual violence policy immediately then it will appear they are doing the bare minimum required. Keomho Life Insurance recently hired 52-year old Jeong Mi-ra as top coach. She has a teenaged daughter and was hired not only for her basketball skill — she first appeared as a guard on the national team — but to be a counselor for the athletes. The WKBL must prepare effective systems. After putting in place a “hotline” for sexual assault victims to get advice, they will be able to say to those who are looking on from outside that “we have done all we can” and then should carry out punishments and reforms according to the results of their investigation. Even though rumors will not go away there needs to be a way to verify them. The Korea Sports Council and the National Human Rights Commission recently agreed to: investigate the situation of sexual violence and human rights violations committed against athletes; pursue punishment of confirmed human rights violations; implement human rights education for athletes, coaches, and parents; and prepare plans to ameliorate the situation. This partnership should be properly understood as being the first step. The law is a problem, too. Former Woori Bank coach Park Myeong-su received two years’ probation after being accused of molesting an athlete. The reasons he received such a light sentence compared to the 18 months in prison requested by prosecutors, the judge said, were that “he has no prior convictions, served women’s basketball for over 10 years including as coach of the women’s national team, and was highly intoxicated at the time of his crime.” It is not easy to understand why he should be punished lightly because of his prior accomplishments and drunkenness at the time of a first offense. The judge needs to be aware that more sexual assaults will result from such a ruling.