By Narae Kim
SEOUL, April 1 (Reuters) - South Korea's sports ministry has launched a probe into seven winter sports federations in a bid to uncover any illegal activities and recover public trust in the organisations ahead of the 2018 Pyeongchang Olympic Games.
The ministry said in a statement on Tuesday the probe would look into the activities of the skating, ice hockey, curling, skiing, biathlon, bobsleigh/skeleton and luge federations and seek the cooperation of the police and prosecution if it uncovered any evidence of corruption.
South Korean sport has been embroiled in several controversies relating to the Sochi Winter Games in February, including the circumstances surrounding the defection of short track speed skater Viktor Ahn, formerly Ahn Hyun-soo, to Russia.
There have also been allegations of physical abuse and sexual harassment levelled at members of the coaching staff in the national set-up.
The sports ministry said that with the home Winter Games just four years away, the role of the federations was becoming increasingly important.
"However, we have heard continuing allegations of misconduct, as well as complaints such as suspicions surrounding Ahn Hyun-soo's failure to make it to the national team, recent sexual harassment allegations within the curling team and... accusations that violence was used by coaching staff in the luge team, therefore we are losing trust in sports organisations," it said in a statement.
"The ministry has launched a special investigation to discover any illegal activities going on within these organisations and come up with measures to deal with them in a transparent and fair manner."
Public anger among Koreans boiled over when Ahn won his fourth, fifth and sixth gold medals in Sochi under the name Viktor Ahn, and as a Russian competitor.
Ahn had won his first three gold medals as a South Korean at the Turin Olympics in 2006, but then came quarrels and clashes with the Korean Skating Union, failure to qualify for the 2010 Games and the decision to quit Korea and become a Russian citizen.
"This investigation, unlike the previous one on the general administration of sports association conducted last year, will focus on the national team selection process and the management of facilities and equipment," the ministry said.
Members of the Korean women's curling team, who failed to make it past the round robin stage in Sochi, threatened to quit last week in protest at the behaviour of coaches. (Writing by Peter Rutherford, Editing by Sudipto Ganguly)