THREATS AGAINST BOUTIN RE­AL­ITY OF ON­LINE WORLD

Kingston Whig-Standard - - SPORTS - CHRISTIE BLATCH­FORD In Pyeongchang cblatch­ford@post­media.com Twit­ter: @blatchkiki

If it’s dis­heart­en­ing that a 23-year-old Cana­dian short­track speed­skater drew the on­line ire of South Kore­ans bit­ter at the dis­qual­i­fi­ca­tion in the same race of their coun­try’s ath­lete, it’s best to seek a lit­tle per­spec­tive.

Kim Boutin of Sher­brooke, Que., ac­tu­ally crossed the fin­ish line of the 500 me­tres Tues­day in fourth spot.

But when South Korea’s Min­jeong Choi, who had lost the gold in a photo fin­ish to Italy’s Ari­anna Fon­tana, was dis­qual­i­fied by the race judges, it moved Boutin into the bronze-medal po­si­tion and onto the podium.

Such dis­qual­i­fi­ca­tions, usu­ally for “push­ing” or too ag­gres­sively jostling op­po­nents, are com­mon in the wild west that is short track, where it’s a fine line be­tween what’s le­gal con­tact and what isn’t.

But sure as North Korea’s chant­ing cheer­lead­ers sing “We are one!” Boutin’s In­sta­gram ac­count was soon flooded with the usual hideous vitriol: “Medal thief,” “f--k kim boutin is dirty,” etc.

There were also mes­sages of con­grat­u­la­tions and sup­port, but these got pre­dictably lit­tle at­ten­tion.

Re­port­edly, there were also “death threats” against Boutin, but these ap­peared to be thir­dor fourth-hand re­ports, trans­lated from Korean to English or French, and since Boutin’s ac­counts were im­me­di­ately made pri­vate, they were tricky to ver­ify.

The most threat­en­ing of the re­ported com­ments were, “If I find you, you will die,” and “cut your hands and leg dirty girl.”

While un­doubt­edly un­pleas­ant for Boutin (and of course un­war­ranted, un­de­served and un­fair), it’s dif­fi­cult to imag­ine any au­thor­i­ties any­where, out­side of North Korea, suc­cess­fully pros­e­cut­ing an of­fence based on that paucity of ev­i­dence.

Yet the Cana­dian Olympic Com­mit­tee is­sued a pro­foundly use­less yet oddly ob­fus­cat­ing state­ment Wed­nes­day, as it is prone to do.

“COC state­ment re­gard­ing Kim Boutin,” it was en­ti­tled.

This is what it said: “The health, safety and se­cu­rity of all our team mem­bers is our top pri­or­ity and as such we are work­ing closely with Speed Skat­ing Canada, our se­cu­rity per­son­nel and the RCMP.

“We will not make fur­ther com­ment on this is­sue, so that Kim can fo­cus on her up­com­ing events.”

No one (but per­haps for some churl­ish South Korean fans still mad at her) would wish Boutin any­thing but luck in her next events — she is in the 1,500 me­tres Satur­day with the re­lay and 1,000 me­tres to fol­low — but what has that to do with her health and safety?

Was it ever en­dan­gered or not? Is the RCMP ac­tu­ally in­ves­ti­gat­ing and, if so, what ex­actly? And if the COC had noth­ing to say, as it so clearly did, why is­sue a state­ment that seems to con­firm or sug­gest some­thing sig­nif­i­cant and pos­si­bly dan­ger­ous hap­pened?

Any­one gen­uinely in­ter­ested in health and safety mat­ters in this part of the world would do well to re­mem­ber the late Otto Warm­bier, the U.S. col­lege stu­dent who, en route to a stint at a Hong Kong univer­sity, took a quickie tour of North Korea in late De­cem­ber 2015/early Jan­u­ary 2016.

He al­legedly stole a pro­pa­ganda poster and was sen­tenced to 15 years in prison.

When it be­came clear Warm­bier was go­ing to die on North Korean soil, au­thor­i­ties moved to un­ex­pect­edly re­lease him last June. A healthy young man when he was ar­rested at the air­port in Py­ongyang Jan. 2, 2016, he came home with such se­vere brain dam­age that ac­cord­ing to his par­ents Fred and Cindy, he was blind, deaf and on a feed­ing tube.

He died in hos­pi­tal June 19 at the age of 22.

In a per­fect world, of course, nice young ath­letes like Boutin wouldn’t be sub­jected to on­line or any other sort of abuse.

But the world isn’t per­fect, es­pe­cially this par­tic­u­lar part of it, even dur­ing an Olympics where peace and unity are the of­fi­cial themes.

Some­how, “cut your hands and leg dirty girl” hardly rises to the level of threat that rou­tinely em­anates from Py­ongyang just 200 kilo­me­tres north and, in this re­gion, on­line cru­elty doesn’t even count as harm.

In other words, calm the hell down, peo­ple and COC. For ob­ject re­minders in what con­sti­tutes real dan­ger, look north and re­mem­ber Warm­bier.

Kim Boutin

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