THREATS AGAINST BOUTIN REALITY OF ONLINE WORLD
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.