SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — Allegations of coaches verbally and physically abusing a young player at the Son Football Academy funded by English Premier League star Son Heung-min are being investigated by South Korean prosecutors.

Hundreds of South Korean children have attended the academy with the dream of following in the footsteps of Asia’s biggest soccer star.

Son’s father, former professional player Son Woong-jung, is the director of the academy in Chuncheon, 80 kilometers (almost 50 miles) east of the capital Seoul.

He has denied the allegations against himself and two of his coaches.

The parents of a young player have said their son was hit by a coach with a corner flag and also subjected to verbal abuse.

“Thinking about how frightened my son must have been makes me angry,” the player’s father told South Korea’s domestic Yonhap news agency. “I decided to report the case to the police because I didn’t want to see another case like this.”

Son Woong-jung has apologized but denied allegations of abuse.

“I swear that coaches at my academy have never engaged in any action that wasn’t based on love for our young players,” Son said. “Much of what the plaintiff has said is not true, and we at the academy are fully cooperating with the authorities during this investigation, without distorting or covering up facts.”

Son promised to evaluate his coaching methods.

“I admit that I stuck to my own ways without recognizing the standards set by the changing times,” he said. “I will seek other ways that can help young athletes concentrate on the field and stay committed to training.”

The academy opened in 2021, with much of the estimated cost of $15 million funded by Son Heung-min, the popular captain of Tottenham Hotspur. His team’s July 31 exhibition game against a local team in Seoul quickly sold all of its 66,000 tickets last week.

It is not the first time in South Korea that coaches have been accused of physically abusing athletes.

In 2020, triathlete Choi Suk-hyeon took her own life after lodging complaints with sporting authorities, claiming years of physical and verbal torment at the hands of coaches. A year earlier, female speed skaters alleged physical and sexual abuse against a coach.

In a 2006 autobiography, former South Korea captain and Manchester United star Park Ji-sung wrote of the physical beatings he took as a youngster at the hands of senior players at school.


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