WTF president Chungwon Choue. (ATR)
(ATR) Leaders of the World Taekwondo Federation tell Around the Rings
their sport has totally changed and “is no longer boring”.
sat down with WTF president Chungwon Choue and sports director Jeong Kang Seo at the federation’s office in Seoul just after the World Taekwondo Youth Camp earlier this month in Muju.
The discussion centered around the sport’s future, whether taekwondo will remain on the Olympic program and what’s in store for the 2012 Games.
Choue and Seo stressed the new dynamic nature of taekwondo, a sport they say is radically different from the one evaluated by the IOC back in 2005. Though it's one of several sports up for review at the 2013 IOC Session, Choue says he has no doubt taekwondo will remain on the Olympic program.
Around the Rings:
How do you feel when you see an event like the World Taekwondo Youth Camp?
It means the future of taekwondo is very bright.
We just accepted three more countries as members, so now our membership is 200. I checked the other Olympic sports, and we are ranked number six [in terms of national member associations], which is very good. Nobody knows the exact number of practicing taekwondo athletes, but we are counting 60 or 70 million, which is a very large number. In many countries, taekwondo is number two behind football. Especially in the Middle East, taekwondo is very popular after we allowed them to wear the hijab. Especially in the Middle East [among females], it is really growing very fast and performing quite well.
Taekwondo is no longer a Korean-dominated sport. It is a sport world widely distributed. Always I am saying it is Korea’s gift to the world, especially after it became an Olympic sport.
In Beijing, we had 64 participating nations and 26 countries received medals, which is good medal distribution. Afterwards, we sent a taekwondo peace corps team to the world. It has enormously helped enhance taekwondo among countries in Africa and Latin America, so I’m pretty much sure we are in a good position. We are really in the right direction.
Especially in 2011, we are focusing on helping taekwondo in the African region. That’s why we are forming some kind of workshop on how to help taekwondo in Africa region. But the problem is airfare. Airfare is very high, and [there are] no good airline connections. But we will do our best to support taekwondo in the African region and in Latin America.
In Latin America, taekwondo is very strong. Still, besides Brazil, not many countries are doing well. We are planning to support more in South America and Africa. In the Middle East, the number of countries and level is growing very fast. So in Asia, besides Korea of course, China, Vietnam, Thailand, Chinese Taipei, Philippines and Indonesia are all very strong. Even Singapore did a very good job in the Youth Olympic Games. They got two bronze medals during the YOG. In Europe, I don’t have to mention but again, many countries are very strong.
Some countries have financial problems so we support them and send coaches and equipment. And also maybe before we will bring some, [we ask for] maybe a couple more member associations. I already asked the African continental union president to bring in some more countries and we expect two or three more to join WTF.
How big do you think WTF could get in terms of national member associations?
More than 250 youngsters participated in the World Taekwondo Youth Camp in Muju. (ATR)
As many as the IOC has. The IOC has 205 member associations. That is our hope. But 205 is not an easy number.
Looking ahead to 2013, what do you have to do to remain on the Olympic program?
CC: The IOC didn’t decide what the evaluation criteria is, but after we receive that after the London Olympic Games, we will do our best to finalize our evaluation criteria. So last time, when we were evaluated in 2005 at the IOC Session in Singapore, the only missing point was media exposure. But Taekwondo is now in a different situation because we created a five-on-five team competition, which is very dynamic and interesting and is really media-friendly. And spectators love that five-on-five team championship.
After we changed our competition size and we changed our rules and regulations, taekwondo became a very dynamic sport. It is not a boring sport anymore. I say that [the competition area at the] Athens Olympics was 12x12 and that was really boring. And then that’s why we shrink to 10x10 in Beijing, but it is still too big. After that we shrink to 8x8 and we will introduce that competition area at the London Olympic Games.
And London will be the first Olympic Games that will introduce the video replay system. We are now using it. We are using only one competition area so we will put five video cameras, and we will check the missing points and the human error of the judges can be corrected. Taekwondo will be the most fair and transparent sport in the Olympics.
Are you confident that taekwondo will remain on the Olympic program?
I am confident, but we will do our best. With the number of national member associations, the population all over the world and the fairness of judging, we are very much confident that taekwondo will remain on the Olympic program.
Is there anything you are afraid of that would keep you off the program?
Not anymore, because last time in 2005 media exposure was not so good. But our taekwondo
competition has really changed a lot. Very dynamic and interesting. And also the transparency of refereeing – we work very hard. All the rules and regulations were changed to a more international, high standard.
How have athletes reacted to all the rule changes?
Jeong Kang Seo:
Since the Beijing Olympic Games, we’ve had several major rule changes, and taekwondo has become more media friendly, exciting and fair. And athletes might find it slightly confusing to adjust on their own to the competition. But since we switched to the protective scoring system they are more confident about the judging.
Before it was only a judge’s decision to award a point. But now we use the Protective Scoring System (PSS). When they kick the body the system automatically recognizes a point. Especially in the fourth round, which is sudden death, they have a lot of pressure when there is a sudden death round, who kicked first. With PSS this is something we can give confidence to athletes. They feel more comfortable. That’s one of the very positive things we will have in London.
The setting for the youth camp in Muju will serve as a year-round training hub for taekwondo. (ATR)
Because we have a different point system, this rule change has become official as of last year. Before that, when there is a two- or three-point difference between athletes, the winning athletes tended to run away to keep the winning situation. But because of this change, until the last moment of competition, athletes have to really defend well. Otherwise, he’s going to give away four points and he will lose. This puts more emphasis on the physical training.
Is there anything else you need to change?
There are a lot of different opinions from the experts, but in my opinion, as sports director, safety is of course one of the most important issues. The injury case is lower than people might think. But in taekwondo they are very prepared for competition. Before we change rules in ways for excitement, we keep our mind for the safety issue. We want to keep these rules for the next couple of years until the athletes are more harmonized.
We are always thinking how to change our sport more. Not only media-friendly, but international-wise. At the moment we are concentrating on success of the London Olympic competition. We cannot change more before the Games, only after the Games. Maybe you will see entirely different taekwondo sports in Rio. I mean, uniform-wise, other rules and regulations, things like that.
What else will be new at London?
As I just mentioned, the video replay system. We are going to put in five video cameras. Also the PSS will be introduced, and the competition rules and regulations. I heard that already all the taekwondo [test event] tickets have been sold out at Excel Centre. We are the first of five sports.
What are you expecting performance-wise?
Well, the U.K. has really good athletes in both male and female divisions. U.K. has a very good chance to get medals. Iran, China, Turkey, Spain also have many chances for medals. In around 20 to 25 countries, the level of taekwondo is very similar. The best-of-the-best will get a medal.
Have you been to the venue?
Only once. We will have our test event in December. It is a very good location. We are very much satisfied.
How are preparations with LOCOG going?
They are doing very well. That’s why we are the number one sport.
What else do you have to do to get the message across that taekwondo is no longer Korean-dominated? With many people, that message is not resonating.
Not many, but some people were saying you have many Koreans on board as council members, but the secretary general is Korean-born but he has American citizenship. He lived more of his life in the United States than Korea, so there are many people like that. [Taekwondo] is not even Asian. So we are trying to make our sport more internationalized, more transparent. That’s our aim, and we are doing that.
What have you learned from the Youth Olympic Games? Many federations saw different formats can work for their sports.
Youth Olympic Games is different from regular Olympic Games, as you know. It is more educational for the kids, for future Olympians. So we introduce our demonstration teams to introduce to the kids.
WTF headquarters in Seoul. (ATR)
YOG has a bright future because every kid has a hope and dream to compete at the Olympic Games.
That’s why last time in Singapore we also sent our demonstration team to teach what is taekwondo and how good taekwondo is, so that was very successful for us.
As you know, China is one of the fastest growing countries in taekwondo. The two biggest provinces in China are teaching taekwondo as mandatory in their elementary schools, and we are expecting a very successful taekwondo competition in Nanjing [in 2014].
Korea is growing in importance in the Olympic world. Is becoming an IOC member something you would want to do?
Only God knows. [Laughs] I cannot give you an answer.
Interview conducted in Seoul by Ed Hula III.
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