(ATR) He was as charming as he could be cunning. Un Yong Kim lived a career in sport that helped lead to the Olympics in Seoul and a place for taekwondo on the Olympic program.
Un Yong Kim at IOC headquarters in Lausanne (ATR)
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But while he accumulated influence as an IOC member, federation president and Korean Olympic Committee president over some 30 years, Kim ran afoul of ethical and criminal issues that effectively ended his dominion.
Kim, who turned 86 in March, died Oct. 2 at a hospital in Seoul. He is reported to have checked in to the hospital “feeling under the weather”. At a dinner with Around the Rings
earlier this year in Seoul, Kim bragged about his four times a week exercise routine that included Pilates and vitamin supplements.
Un Yong Kim joined the IOC in 1986 after serving as president of the Korean Taekwondo Federation, secretary general of the Korean NOC and vice president of the 1986 Asian Games in Seoul. He was a vice president of the 1988 Seoul Olympics.
Prior to his work in sport, Kim held a variety of diplomatic and military posts. In 1953 he received training from the U.S. Army in Ft. Benning, Georgia. The time spent in Georgia allowed him to visit Atlanta, where he would return 40 years later as an IOC member to the city hosting the 1996 Olympics.
He spent several terms as a member of the IOC Executive Board in the 1990s and was elected a vice president in 2003. He served as chairman of the Radio-TV Commission, which was then responsible for sale of broadcast rights and the operations of broadcasters at the Games.
Kim attracts a gaggle of reporters in 2001 at the Moscow IOC Session where he ran for IOC President. (ATR)
Salt Lake City Scandal
The late 1990s marked the start of a series of setbacks. He was reprimanded by the IOC for using his influence to secure a job for his son in Salt Lake City while the Utah capital was bidding for the 2002 Olympics. Salt Lake City bidders also booked a daughter of Kim, who is a concert pianist, to perform during an IOC function.
Despite these issues, Kim maintained his IOC status and even sought the IOC presidency in 2001 when Juan Antonio Samaranch retired. Samaranch and Kim were close but Samaranch’s favor fell to Jacques Rogge, who easily triumphed over rivals who included Richard Pound of Canada and Anita DeFrantz of the U.S.
Kim provoked a controversy in the final days of the presidential campaign by declaring that if elected president, he would establish compensation for IOC members for the time they spent on IOC business. The IOC Ethics Commission deemed the proposal out of bounds before the IOC vote at the Session in Moscow.
DeFrantz was elected with Kim to the IOC in 1986. She recalls her Korean colleague as “a larger than life character who always seemed busy leaving the room to take phone calls”.
She admits her dismay as a presidential candidate in 2001 when Kim proposed his $50,000 annual salary for IOC members. DeFrantz finished last of five candidates. Kim, despite being rebuffed for the offer to pay IOC members, finished second to Rogge.
DeFrantz says she got a taste of Kim’s deal-making ways in 1982 as Seoul campaigned against Nagoya for the 1988 Olympics. She says she didn’t realize what was going on at the time, but the plane tickets to Seoul he handed out to IOC members could be turned in for reimbursement or refund.
“His style was completely different than mine,” DeFrantz says, gently rejecting Kim's style of influence-building.
“He wanted to be influential. He helped bring taekwondo into the Olympics. Without him, it would have taken much longer.”
“I remember times we laughed together. But I would not want to be part of any of his schemes.”
In 2003, Kim successfully returned to the EB after winning election as IOC vice president at the session in Prague. It would be his last accolade as an IOC member.
That Session selected Vancouver as the host of the 2010 Olympics over Salzburg and PyeongChang. The South Korean hamlet was making the first of the three bids it would need to eventually win the 2018 Winter Games.
Three days later, after word reached Korea that Kim had downplayed the chances of the 2010 bid from PyeongChang, Kim was elected IOC vice president. He became the target for scorn at home, accused of putting his IOC ambitions ahead of the Olympic bid. His effigy was burned by protestors in Seoul.
Prosecutors opened an investigation into Kim’s financial affairs at the same time. He was soon arrested and charged with embezzlement and other financial crimes. He was accused of misusing millions from the accounts of the NOC and World Taekwondo Federation. Prosecutors say Kim sent cash to North Korea as an inducement to convince the North to participate in the one and only joint march so far with the South at the opening ceremony in 2000 at Sydney.
Kim with Ung Chang of North Korea in 2002 (ATR)
In 2004, as Kim tried to fend off prosecutors, he sent a letter to his North Korean counterpart Ung Chang. In the letter Kim asks for documentation to back his claim that the $1.1 million paid to North Korea was part of ongoing sport cooperation, not a bribe to secure the joint march of the Koreans in Sydney.
End of Olympic Career
Kim was barred from the IOC while under arrest, trial and subsequent imprisonment. Losing a series of appeals, Kim was facing expulsion from the IOC in July 2005. Instead of enduring a vote at the IOC Session in Singapore, Kim chose to resign his seat a few weeks earlier. He claimed IOC President Jacques Rogge forced him to resign and blamed Rogge for the difficulties he faced in Korea. Kim said that he might have been able to beat the expulsion vote if it had taken place.
Kim eventually received a presidential pardon from the Korean government. He has remained resolute that he did no wrong and that he was the target of political intrigue in Korea and the IOC. Despite the pardon, Kim never was able to win back his status as a retired IOC member that might lead to an honorary membership, as it usually does for retired members.
In the years since losing his IOC membership, Kim kept in contact with some of his former colleagues, including current president Thomas Bach and Ser Miang Ng of Singapore.
“Dr. Kim Un Yong was one of the most passionate and dedicated sports leaders that I have known,” Ng tells Around the Rings
Samaranch and Kim at the 1992 IOC Session in Birmingham (ATR)
Kim Un-Yong Sport Committee
Last year, Kim and his supporters organized the Kim Un-yong Sport Committee. Kim says the group “was inaugurated to promote the Olympic movement, to reinforce Korean sports and sports diplomacy and globalization of taekwondo.”
The first event will be the Kim Un Yong Cup International Open October 25 to 29. The taekwondo tournament will take place at the Kukkiwon, the center for the sport created by Kim, and Hanyang University Olympic Hall, where volleyball was held in 1988.
“Even at the age of 86, he worked hard to launch the Kim Un Yong Cup International Taekwondo Championship which is scheduled to take place this month. Sadly, he will not be able to witness the fruits of his labor. Alas, this will always be remembered as his last gift to the world for the sport that he so loved,” Ng tells ATR
Kim is recognized for his work to bring taekwondo to the Olympics, approved in 1993 for the 2000 Olympics. He served as president of the World Taekwondo Federation from 1993 to 2004.
“All my efforts for taekwondo are based on the solid foundation of his earlier achievements,” says Chungwon Choue, Kim’s successor as president of the international federation.
“He was the founding father of Olympic taekwondo. Everyone in global taekwondo today benefits from the structures he created; every taekwondo player today who dreams of Olympic glory owes Kim a debt of gratitude,” says Choue.
From 1986, Kim was president of GAISF, the General Association of International Sports Federations, which became known as SportAccord in 2009. This year the organization, which represents more than 100 international federations, reverted to using the GAISF acronym.
“As you remember, GAISF was the General Association of International Sports Federation incorporating Olympic Winter, Olympic Summer and Non Olympic (Other) and Multiple Sports Organizations. It was a melting pot of all sports bodies which have come up from and based on grass roots, meeting every year to freely discuss common issues and themes on a non-commercial basis,” Kim wrote to ATR
when he heard about the name change.
“I was not happy when Verbruggen and Rogge dissolved GAISF and turned it to completely a commercial entity,” he said referring to the late Hein Verbruggen, who succeeded Kim and developed the SportAccord annual convention.
“I pointed out that today's problem for the Olympic movement comes from over-commercialism, over-gigantism, over professionalism to some extent, if not 100 percent,” observed Kim in the email from March 2017.
Declining Korean Infuence
But as much as some may salute Kim’s work in sport, his downfall may have led to a loss of influence for Korea in the IOC and diminished power for the Korean NOC.
One sports expert in the region says while Kim was skilled in politics, he termed it “bad politics”.
“Because of him, the IOC and a majority of old IOC members have had bad impressions of Korea and the Olympic Movement,” the source claims.
Kim was critical of the lack of support he says the PyeongChang Olympics have received from government and business, compared the 1988 Olympics in which he played a leadership role.
“The 1988 Seoul Olympics was a national effort and to provide money was patriotism. Now, people are not interested. Furthermore, the economic situation is so bad that they will not volunteer to give money,” he told Around the Rings
Reported by Ed Hula.
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