SEOUL, South Korea >> A beleaguered South Korean curling official says he and his family will leave the sport for good as the government investigates their alleged abusive treatment of the “Garlic Girls,” the country’s hugely popular Olympic silver medalists.
Former Korean Curling Federation vice-president Kim Kyung-doo said today he offers a “sincere apology” to the athletes and also for causing “great disappointment” to the public.
Kim admitted to accusations that he verbally abused members of the team, saying he had been “unskilled” in expression. However, Kim has been denying more serious accusations, including holding back donations and prize money from the team. Kim’s statement was sent to reporters hours before the Sports Ministry decided to extend its inquiry into the allegations by two weeks until Dec. 21 to look deeper into the suspicion of financial wrongdoings.
Kim and his family had extensive control over the team with his daughter, Kim Min-jung, being the head coach and her husband the mixed doubles coach.
“We dedicated ourselves to curling for 25 years, sacrificing our family and friends for the development of the sport,” Kim said in the statement. “But it was our great failure that we were unable to look around and properly consider those around us. I would like to say once more that I and my family will completely leave curling.”
The five-member women’s curling team became an overnight sensation after their improbable silver medal run in February’s Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea. Their nickname is a nod to the famous garlic produced in their hometown in Uiseong, in southern South Korea, where they met and began playing together as teenagers.
But an inner-conflict was exposed last month when Kim Eun-jung, Kim Seon-yeong, Kim Cho-hee, and sisters Kim Yeong-ae and Kim Yeong-mi sent a letter to the Korean Sport and Olympic Committee accusing Kim of verbal abuse and team coaches of giving unreasonable orders and excessive control. The curlers also said the coaches withheld money and tried to sideline the married captain Kim Eun-jung after learning of her plans to start a family.
They said the coaches also tried to force Kim Cho-hee off the team ahead of the Olympics to open a spot for head coach Kim Min-jung to participate as an athlete, and that Kim Kyung-doo responded with a tirade after they decided to stick with their teammate.
South Korea, which has long associated Olympic achievements with national pride, has struggled to root out abuse and corruption bred by factionalism and nepotism from its highly-competitive elite sports scene, where such problems have often been overlooked as long as the athletes produce.