Seung-min Ryu won an Olympic gold medal in table tennis at Athens 2004 in the men’s singles event, and since 2016 has been an athlete representative.
He works closely with the IOC and Athlete365 in promoting safe sport, and has drawn on his own experiences as an athlete to inspire change which you can adopt in your practices.
Education is key to creating change, says Seung-min, and he urges entourage members like you to think more deeply about the relationship you have with your athletes.
The Republic of Korea is culturally very conservative. Here, age is important, and it’s a top-down system. Coaches often say, “You have to do this,” and the athletes listen. This is very difficult to challenge. Cultural hurdles have always existed, and this is still true today.
Many entourage members and coaches do a really great job with their athletes and build a strong sense of trust. But we have to be careful, because the relationship between an entourage member and an athlete is mostly a top-down one. Despite having the same goals, the entourage member can sometimes be too authoritarian and coercive.
Changing the culture
There was a really tragic incident in June 2020, in which Korean triathlete Choi Suk-hyeon took her own life after her complaints about abuse from her coaching staff were ignored. Even before this, though, we had some cases with female athletes in short track speed skating.
When I was a young athlete, I often saw cases of harassment and abuse. But back then, it was part of a normal environment. Even my parents told me not to act, to stay silent, because they believed that it encouraged passion and a stronger mentality. But it was totally wrong.
That’s why at this moment, with this generation, we are aware of how that kind of behaviour impacts society – not just sports society, but all of Korean society. Now the Korean Sport & Olympic Committee, of whose Athletes’ Commission I am a member, is working really closely with the Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism and other organisations to promote education programmes and communication channels on the prevention of harassment and abuse in sport.
AS AN ATHLETE REPRESENTATIVE AND A MEMBER OF THE IOC AC, IT’S MY RESPONSIBILITY TO ENCOURAGE YOU TO SPEAK UP. IF YOU THINK SOMETHING IS WRONG, YOU SHOULD SPEAK UP. THE IOC, AND OTHER ATHLETES’ COMMISSIONS, ARE READY TO LISTEN TO YOUR VOICES.
Education is really, really crucial for everyone – not only senior-level athletes, but especially young athletes and entourage members.
Since these tragic cases, many athletes have tried to speak up. This is a very positive change. The message to encourage and inspire athletes to speak up is a changing signal for everyone. It is not only in the Republic of Korea that we see these problems concerning safe sport – I believe many countries have the same issues.
As an athlete representative and a member of the IOC AC, it’s my responsibility to encourage you and your athletes to speak up. If you think something is wrong, you should speak up. The IOC AC and other athletes’ commissions are ready to listen to your voices.
The importance of education
Education is essential, because in my experience, many people who have a good character and personality don’t know whether something is wrong or right. When I was young, no one was aware that something was wrong.
But now, sports organisations and authorities can work together to provide education to make people aware of the negative impacts of this type of behaviour for all of society. That’s why education is really, really crucial for everyone – not only senior-level athletes, but especially young athletes and entourage members.
After you educate someone, they have the tools to change. They have knowledge of harassment and abuse cases, and knowledge of their rights. Our Commission has created a valuable platform, the Athletes’ Declaration, to help with this.
Communicating and raising awareness
At the IOC AC, we have been trying to communicate on safe sport with the global network of athlete representatives. This is a really good opportunity to exchange our experiences and ideas. The world is so big, but we are trying to reach each athletes’ commission from National Olympic Committees, International Federations and Continental Associations, through surveys, and by hosting global conference calls and athlete forums.
It is our responsibility to communicate and listen to the voices of both athletes and entourage members. Your voices are really important for making changes to the sporting environment, especially to prevent harassment and abuse cases. Through communication, education and raising awareness, athletes will be ready to speak up.
We should actively engage everyone in the prevention of harassment and abuse in sport. If we work together and speak out together, we will overcome these issues.
THROUGH COMMUNICATION, EDUCATION AND RAISING AWARENESS, ATHLETES WILL BE READY TO SPEAK UP.