Opponent Watch: Korea Republic Will Have An Interim Head Coach, Previous Coach Resigned After Investigation Into Abuse Allegations

In October, the United States Women’s National Team will play the Korea Republic in two matches.  Korea will be led by an interim head coach, Hwang In-Sun, as the previous head coach, Choi In-cheul, resigned less than two weeks after being hired by the Korean Football Association, following allegations of physical abuse against players.

USWNT vs. Korea Republic – Victory Tour Matches

    • Thursday, October 3rd at 8:00PM EDT – Fox Sports 1 (pregame at 7:30 PM EDT)
    • Sunday, October 6th at 2:00 PM EDT – ESPN

For details on Korea Republic’s roster, see:
Opponent Watch: Korea Republic Roster For October USWNT Friendlies Announced

The Korea Republic Women’s National Team will be led by Hwang In-Sun, who is a former player of that squad. A defensive midfielder in her playing days, Hwang famously scored the lone goal in a third-place match against Japan that sent the Korea Republic to their first-ever Women’s World Cup in 2003 (Wikipedia, 2003 article). Hwang made Korea’s roster for the 2003 WWC, appearing as a substitute in their debut match.

Hwang is only a “caretaker” for the team, following the resignation of Choi In-cheul, who was hired to take over for Yoon Duk-yeo, after his resignation following the 2019 WWC, where Korea Republic lost all three of its group matches, finishing last in its group, behind France, Norway, and Nigeria.

Choi, who was* the head coach of the WK League’s Incheon Hyundai Steel Red Angels and had previously coached the Korea WNT from October 2010 to October 2011, as well as the Korea U-20 WNT prior to that, resigned on September 9th, less than two weeks after being hired by the Korean Football Association, following allegations of physical abuse against players, not only during his original stint as head coach of the national team, but also while he was coach of the Red Angels, with further allegations back when when he coached school-age players in the late 1990s to mid-2000s.

*As of September 25th or 26th, Choi was released by the Incheon Hyundai Steel Red Angels, according to Hal Kaiser (Twitter). This is more than two weeks after Choi stepped down from the Korea WNT.

The KFA, through its hiring interview(s) with Choi, was previously aware of at least one incident involving Choi hitting a Red Angels player on the head, which Choi admitted to in a interview before he was hired.

As of Thursday, September 26th, the KFA has not yet announced whether a permanent replacement for Choi has been hired.

The following are key excerpts from English language news articles on the resignation.

“Football federation investigating assault allegations against women’s nat’l coach” – Yonhap News Agency (05-Sep-2019)

The Korea Football Association (KFA) said it was trying to verify a news report from Wednesday that accused Choi In-cheul of physically and verbally abusing players during his first tour of duty with the women’s national team in 2011.

In the news report, one anonymous player was quoted as saying she contemplated quitting football because Choi’s violent ways got out of control.

Choi apparently targeted one particular national team player to hit during practices in 2011, while South Korea were preparing for the 2012 Olympic qualifying tournament.

“French coach emerges as candidate for S. Korean women’s nat’l team job” – Yonhap News Agency (09-Sep-2019)

The KFA brought Choi back for his second tour of duty with the women’s national team, but those who’d played under Choi during his first stint between 2010 and 2011 have alleged that the coach had struck and verbally abused them. Similar allegations have been made by players on Choi’s semi-pro club in the WK League, Incheon Hyundai Steel Red Angels, for the past eight years.

Choi is also suspected of hitting players while coaching elementary, middle and high school teams between the late 1990s and mid-2000s.

“Women’s nat’l football coach resigns amid assault allegations” – Yonhap News Agency (09-Sep-2019)

Choi issued an apology through the KFA.

“I understand the passage of time doesn’t justify or erase what happened, and I am terribly sorry for my action,” he said. “My apology may not be enough to heal all the wounds. But I am deeply regretting what I did, and hopefully people will see sincerity in my apology.”

“Football federation apologizes after hiring a coach with violent past” – The Korea Times (10-Sep-2019)

Choi was named to the national team on Aug. 29 and held his introductory press conference last Tuesday. Allegations against him surfaced in a news report the following day.

Kim [Pan-gon] said he was aware of Choi’s reputation as a “strong-willed” coach and that he heard during his reference checks that some players may not feel comfortable with Choi as their bench boss.

According to Kim, Choi admitted during an interview that he once struck a Red Angels player in the head and he deeply regretted the incident. Choi told Kim that he’d mended fences with the player and that he’d grown up as a man and a coach because of that.

“I accepted Choi’s words as they were, and I now regret not taking any further action,” Kim said. “It would have been the best course of action to meet with the player. But Choi told us everything was okay with her and that was that.”

Kim [Pan-gon] said football instructors have to keep up with the rapidly changing times. Corporal punishment in South Korean sports used to be widely accepted and even encouraged as a means of instilling discipline and order. Athletes used to accept that their coaches could strike them when they felt it necessary. Kim acknowledged it is no longer the case, and the saga surrounding Cho’s hiring and resignation should compel both coaches and athletes to think about where they are in the 21st century.

Unfortunately, useful analysis of the specific situation by persons familiar with South Korean culture, especially with regard to sports coaching culture, seems to be lacking at the moment (at least in English language coverage).

However, numerous articles about corporal punishment in the context of South Korean schools have been published, especially in the last fifteen years, as schools and governmental entities have passed rules and legislation to ban such punishment by teachers.  Additionally, the Global Initiative to End All Corporal Punishment of Children, has a country report on South Korea (PDF) which provides an overview of the legal situation and current attitudes regarding corporal punishment in that country.

As of less than five years, corporal punishment in schools were still very common.  From the Global Initiative country report (citations omitted):

According to a 2016 report on student rights by the Seoul Metropolitan Office of Education, about 19% of the 21,000 surveyed students were physically punished at school in the past year. Corporal punishment was most commonly experienced by students in middle school (31%),  followed by high school (22%) and elementary school students (15%). More cases were reported in private schools (27%) compared to public schools (16%). About 28% of students said they had also experienced verbal assault or insulting remarks from faculty members.

According to the “Survey IV on the Human Rights of Korean Children and Adolescents” conducted by the National Youth Policy Institute in 2013, 23.7% of primary, middle and high school respondents have experienced corporal punishment at least once a year at their school.

A study of 481 high school students, carried out in September and October 2011 and published in 2012 in the journal of the Korea Institute of Criminology, found that 94.6% had experienced corporal punishment at school, including being “spanked”, struck on the cheek and punched.

And, in May 2019, the government of South Korea proposed to outlaw corporal punishment by parents (The Korea Times), which is a far more progressive policy position than in the United States, where about 70% of the American public support spanking as an acceptable punishment (538.com).

To continue the comparison, In the United States, corporal punishment in schools is legal under the Constitution, per a 1977 U.S. Supreme Court, Ingraham v. Wright (oyez.org), but can be regulated by individual states.  As of 2016, only 31 states, plus the District of Columbia, ban corporal punishment in public schools, with New Mexico (2011), Ohio (2009), Pennsylvania (2005), and Delaware (2003), the only states to do so since the year 2000.  Twenty-one of the prohibitions were passed in an ten-year period between 1985 and 1994.

Meanwhile, a majority of countries in South America and Europe ban corporal punishment in both home and school settings. In western Europe, there are two notable exceptions:  The United Kingdom and Italy, which both allow corporal punishment in the home (Global Initiative website, interactive map).

Without proper cultural context, it is difficult to get a full understanding of the situation.  But, from a general human rights position, this incident should be a positive development not only for the Korea Republic Women’s National Team, and women’s soccer (if not “all” soccer) in South Korea, but also for raising awareness in Korean society.

And, even if Choi no longer physically abused his players,  his “strong-willed” personality may have had detrimental effects on the Korea WNT and its players.  So, that would be a valid reason to remove him, even if the abuse was legal and not against the policy of the respective organization when the abuse happened.

Finally, full credit should go to all persons who came forward with substantive information regarding Choi’s behavior, leading to Choi’s resignation, and hopefully some positive change within the Korea WNT program and, perhaps the KFA, as a whole.

For more coverage on the Korea Republic WNT, see:
Opponent Watch: Korea Republic Roster For October USWNT Friendlies Announced

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