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The Rio Olympics has sparked anger in South Korea.
However, the cause for complaint isn’t the sporting achievement (the country’s medal tally already stands at an impressive three golds — seventh in the table overall), but rather the TV coverage at home, in particular remarks by commentators perceived as inappropriate or even sexually discriminatory towards female athletes.
All three South Korean terrestrial broadcasters — KBS, MBC and SBS — have been broadcasting the Games. But despite embarrassingly low ratings due to the 12-hour time difference and extended use of smartphones, that hasn’t meant comments have gone unnoticed.
Among the lines picked up so far are: “They say age is nothing but a numbe,r but 28 is quite old when it comes to women” (SBS, judo); “It’s remarkable that a female athlete has made such an achievement, and she’s not even male” (MBC, weightlifting); and “It’s intriguing to see a female athlete handle steel sports gear” (KBS, fencing).
Elsewhere, the broadcasters were criticized for commenting on appearance over performance: “She smiles like a beauty queen and appears to have all the hallmarks of a prim and proper lady from a noble family, who can play the piano and excel in fencing,” (KBS fencing); “She deserves an applause, all the more since she is so pretty” (SBS, swimming); and “She looks so lusciously soft and tender” (SBS, judo) were just some of the more offensive remarks heard on air.
Over the weekend, one Twitter user (@JOO_D4N) created an online archive of offensive remarks, which has since garnered widespread media attention.
Several in the media have suggested that the Korean public is more sensitive to such comments following a recent highly politicized murder. In May, a 34-year-old man stabbed a 23-year-old woman to death in a public bathroom in Seoul’s busy Gangnam district. He was found to have had a history of schizophrenia and also claimed to have been “belittled by women” in the past. He had no acquaintance or contact with the victim prior to the crime.
The case has since triggered large-scale debates about misogyny and gender inequality in South Korea, and the manner in which such issues are portrayed in mass media. The country largely remains governed by patriarchic social codes, and the World Economic Forum ranks the Asian country 115th out of 145 countries in gender equality.
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