Son Heung-min’s father, brother accused of child abuse at football academy

Posted on : 2024-06-27 17:42 KST Modified on : 2024-06-27 17:56 KST
The case has been handed to Korea’s public prosecutors for investigation
Son Woong-jung coaches athletes at the SON Football Academy. (Yonhap)
Son Woong-jung coaches athletes at the SON Football Academy. (Yonhap)

Son Woong-jung, the father of South Korean soccer superstar Son Heung-min, has been accused of verbally and physically abusing a child athlete as the director of SON Football Academy. 

The victim’s parents have reported Son and two of his coaches for child abuse, and the case has been handed over to public prosecutors. One of the coaches is Son’s son and the older brother of Son Heung-min. The victim’s parents claim that Son Heung-min’s brother struck their son on the thigh with a corner flag during a pre-season training camp in Japan on March 9. The wound reportedly required two weeks of treatment.  

The parents claim that Son Woong-jung also verbally abused their child for making a mistake during practice, lambasting him for slacking off during practice and failing to perform during matches. Another coach, identified as “N,” reportedly struck the child repeatedly on the buttocks and on the calves at the athletes’ sleeping quarters. Some witnesses have testified that N also grabbed the child by his sideburns and struck him on the head. The alleged abuse was reported to police on March 29. After investigating, police have turned the case over to prosecutors. 

As soon as the accusations went public, Son Woong-jung issued a statement, saying, “SON Football Academy and I have apologized to the victims and worked to resolve the issue amicably. However, the victims have demanded a settlement in the hundreds of millions of won. Our academy simply could not accept this, meaning that, unfortunately, a settlement has yet to be reached. We are currently awaiting a fair legal assessment of the situation based on facts.” 

“Once again, I’d like to apologize to the child and his family for the hurt they must feel in their hearts,” Son continued. 

“However, many of my accuser’s claims differ from what actually happened. On my honor, I can swear that none of the actions or words from my coaches came from a place that wasn’t based on love for our students,” he declared.

“I will take this opportunity to reflect on how our coaching methods haven’t kept up with the times and legal standards, and work to develop new coaching methods that bring out the best in children on the field, so they can concentrate on their training,” Son declared. 

A bruise on a minor who has accused Son of abuse. (courtesy of the minor’s guardians)
A bruise on a minor who has accused Son of abuse. (courtesy of the minor’s guardians)

Those representing the child in question immediately gave a rebuttal to Son’s statement. 

“The perpetrators are claiming that we are simply demanding an enormous sum of money although they have done nothing wrong. This is victim-blaming and slander, which qualifies as secondary abuse. We ask that the perpetrators stop attacking the victim and his parents in this manner,” the statement said. 

“Without issuing any apology or contacting us beforehand, Son mobilized his lawyers to issue three demands of us: that we file an official form stating that we do not wish to press charges, that we sign a nondisclosure agreement that forbids us from telling the press or the public of the charges, and that we sign an official agreement to not demand any disciplinary action from the Korea Football Association. Infuriated by this, we spoke out of emotion, and did not engage in a serious or detailed discussion of a settlement.”

“The past few months have been a hell that I’ve simply endured for the sake of my son,” said the victim’s father, 44, during a phone call with the Hankyoreh. 

“There is a difference between strict discipline and training and terrorizing children with verbal abuse,” the father said.

“When I think of how terrified my son must have been, I get so angry. We finally decided to report the situation to the authorities in the hopes that other children do not suffer the same fate.” 

SON Football Academy, located in Chuncheon, Gyeonggi Province, comprises one regulation-sized outdoor soccer stadium, two youth soccer stadiums, and an indoor stadium. It’s a massive facility that spans 70,000 square meters. Construction costs are estimated to be around 17 billion won (US$12.3 million), the majority of which came from donations and fundraising campaigns led by Son Heung-min. Currently, the academy instructs 48 prospective athletes looking to go pro and around 100 hobbyists.

By Park Soo-hyuk, Gangwon correspondent; Kim Chang-keum, staff reporter

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