‘Willing to be pushed to the limit’: totalising power and individual agency within the K-elite sport development regime
Elite sporting culture in South Korea is often regarded as the last hangover from the authoritarian military regimes in the 1960-80s – a spatiotemporally extended barrack ridden with collectivism, strict hierarchy, violence, misogyny and patriotic ideologies, etc. The country’s state-sponsored elite athlete fostering system is still likened to ‘Silmi-do’, a remote island where a military special force was trained to invade Pyongyang in the 1960s, owing to the nature of the system, including its coercive training, cultural isolation and failure in protecting athletes’ human rights. Utilising data from a qualitative study on young South Korean performance athletes, the presentation (1) discusses the relative balance between institutional coercion and voluntaristic agency manifested within the ESDR and (2) compares the balance with those in other institutions of K-society (e.g., K-pop, K-universities, K-companies, etc.) as a way of exploring whether the ESDR is the last bastion of the erstwhile totalising culture or the epitome of reinventive institutions on the rise.
Minhyeok Tak is Lecturer of sport management in the School of Sport, Exercise and Health Sciences at Loughborough University, UK. His research focuses on integrity issues in sport, such as sports betting, match-fixing and athlete safeguarding. Minhyeok is currently working on an IOC-funded project on abuse issues in sport, entitled ‘Is Safe Sport incompatible with high performance? Contextualising safeguarding policies within the South Korean elite athlete development system.’