S. Korean Olympic committee under fire over alleged verbal abuse

Pyeongchang 2018 Winter Olympics
Pyeongchang 2018 Winter Olympics Reuters

South Korea's national Olympic committee has come under fire over alleged verbal abuse of a volunteer worker at the PyeongChang Winter Olympics.

According to the Korean Sport & Olympic Committee (KSOC), its president Lee Kee-heung visited Alpensia Cross-Country Centre on Thursday to encourage South Korean athletes competing in a cross-country event that day. According to the KSOC and witness accounts on social media, Lee, along with aides, sat in seats reserved for those from the International Olympic Committee (IOC), reports Yonhap news agency.

In line with protocol, a volunteer worker at the centre reportedly told Lee and his entourage to remove themselves from the reserved "Olympic Family" seats, to which one member of the group allegedly agreed only after saying hello to IOC President Thomas Bach, who was scheduled to arrive. The volunteer reportedly insisted that the group find other seats.

According to the volunteer's account posted on Facebook, the KSCO official became upset at the request and scolded the volunteer in a condescending tone, saying, "IOC, that's nothing," "We are the host country," and "Use your head. Do you know who this gentleman is?" referring to Lee.

KSOC has said in a statement that Lee himself went back to Alpensia Cross-Country Centre on Saturday to apologise to volunteers.

"I respect the hard work by volunteers, who have braved the cold weather and have done their duty for the successful hosting of the PyeongChang Winter Olympics," KSOC quoted Lee as telling the volunteers.

But it was revealed that the actual volunteer who was subjected to verbal abuse was actually off-duty on Saturday.

It turns out that KSOC's statement did not specify whether Lee personally apologized to the volunteer. The statement, however, noted that he plans to meet volunteers whom he didn't have the chance to see at a later date.

When pressed about the incident by reporters, Sung Baik-you, spokesperson for the PyeongChang Organising Committee for the 2018 Olympic & Paralympic Games (POCOG), said Sunday that the "incident has been settled" and stated that POCOG had no business to involve itself in the "scuffle" involving KSOC.

Sung also apparently downplayed the incident, suggesting that it wasn't big enough to report to the IOC. Mark Adams, the IOC spokesman, also suggested that it was a subject matter that should be discussed within the KSOC.