South Korea’s “Garlic Girls” curling team were exploited by their coaches, who stole tens of thousands of dollars of prize money from the Olympic medalists, the South Korean Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism said yesterday.
The curlers, who come from a town famous for garlic farming, were rank outsiders at South Korea’s Pyeongchang Games last year, but became a media sensation as they swept their way to Olympic silver.
However, in November last year they publicly accused their coaches of verbal abuse and intrusive control, and claimed that they had not received their prize money from previous competitions, prompting public outrage and a probe by the ministry.
The team claimed the coaches were running South Korean curling like a family fiefdom: the husband of their head coach, Kim Min-jung, is a former national men’s team coach, while her father, Kim Kyung-doo, is a former vice president of the Korean Curling Federation.
Following a five-week investigation, the ministry yesterday said that the allegations made by the curlers were “mostly true.”
“It was confirmed that there was excessive control over privacy by the coaches ... who strongly berated the athletes if they spoke with their previous coaches or athletes from other teams,” the ministry said, adding that the coaches censored gifts and fan letters.
The curlers were not paid properly, as the coaches had “mismanaged” about 94 million won (US$83,578) of the team’s income, it said.
They also embezzled about 30 million won, it added.
The probe also found that the coaches had evaded taxes and hired unqualified family members to work on the national team.
The case would be forwarded to the police, the ministry said.
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