"Oceania deserves more Olympic places"
Interview with Mr. Phil Coles, President of the Oceania Taekwondo Union (OTU)
Q. 2012 has been a really important year for all sports, specially for Taekwondo, because of the London Olympics. Now that is almost over, what is your assessment on this year for Taekwondo in general?
A. Our sport has been developing at a rapid pace since its introduction as a full medal sport at the 2000 Sydney Olympic Games. There have been radical changes to the method of competition and our competition rules and our sport has received greater publicity as a mainstream sport. There is now a universal recognition that the sport of Taekwondo is practiced worldwide and extends to both developed and developing nations. In other words, Taekwondo is truly universal. Look at the Olympians over the years and look at some of the medallists who have come from challenged and difficult backgrounds. Our sport provides them with equal opportunity regardless of where they have come from. Many of our Olympians have actually been the first to represent their nation in any sport and in any Olympic Games. Our sport gives athletes from impoverished and challenged backgrounds the same opportunity for Olympic success as any other athletes.
The number of Olympic team flag bearers at the London Olympic Games and that the Athletes oath was taken by a female Taekwondo athlete is indicative of how far our sport has progressed since making its Olympic debut in 2000. The development has been rapid, significant and transparent for all to see.
The WTF’s Peace Corps has contributed to the cultivation and development of our sport in many new member nations. The rapid expansion in the number of MNA’s that have now joined the WTF family has made the WTF one of the largest International Sporting Federations.
That does not mean that we must now be complacent and satisfied with our achievements. More important work needs to be done by each MNA and the WTF to achieve our ultimate objectives. We must never be satisfied with what we have achieved and must always strive for further improvements and expansion.
Q. How would you assess your organization’s performance during this year?
A. Considering the Oceania Taekwondo Union was only established in 2005, we have made significant improvements and gains within the OTU over a relatively short period of time. We started with 12 members nations in 2005 and now have 20 member nations. Of course the OTU predominantly comprises of young and very developing MNA’s of the WTF. Many of our member associations are struggling to make ends meet with little or no government funding but to the credit of our MNA’s, they constantly display enormous passion and dedication to our sport and to the WTF regardless of their means and the difficult circumstances they find themselves in. The Oceania region has only been allocated 8 Olympic places and yet in 2012, we qualified 8 athletes who came from a record 4 Oceania nations. The two Australian athletes advanced to the quarter finals and were very unlucky not to place for an Olympic medal. Yes, we failed to obtain a medal, but within the Oceania region and given our relative short existence thus far, we have made great improvements in our standards and our competitiveness. Let’s not forget that the Oceania region has produced one gold and one silver Olympic medal since the 2000 Olympics and yet we only have 8 Olympic places compared to other larger continental unions who have 24 Olympic places. Consequently, we are right up there with the larger Continental unions on a proper comparative basis.
The Olympic Games are more about opportunity, personal achievement and the opportunity of competing at the world’s highest sporting event. Win or lose, all Oceania athletes are true champions as they always display humility, respect and great sportsmanship no matter how they perform individually. This is certainly the case for all our Olympians in 2012 who came from Papua New Guinea, Solomon Islands, Australia and New Zealand. I am sure that if the Oceania region were allocated a few more Olympic places we would have a far stronger chance of obtaining an Olympic medal. Despite the fact that we achieved no medals in 2012, we strongly believe that we are developing in the right direction and success is just around the corner for the Oceania athletes.
Q. As the OTU President, what are your main plans/goals for the OTU in 2013?
A. Greater resources, more funding and technical assistance will significantly assist our Oceania athletes and our MNA’s. We need these things in order to develop our sport, our athletes and our MNA’s. My role as president of the OTU is to deliver these things to our member nations and their athletes in 2013-2016. I also plan on continuing to press for the Oceania region to be granted an increase in its Olympic quota athlete numbers. We have grown from 12 nations to 20 and we deserve more Olympic places to ensure we have the same opportunities as other continental unions. If Europe has 24 Olympic places with 48 nations, then Oceania must have more than 8 places if its membership is now 20 member nations.
I also wish to ensure that our member nations have greater and more active involvement in elite WTF sanctioned competitions. Of course this requires government funding and other resources and the OTU is committed to ensuring that our member nations have the resources they require in order to be competitive on the world stage and in developing basic programs in their own country so as to increase participation rates within our sport. My role as President requires me to make strong representations to the WTF and to all Oceania governments to recognise the potential of the Oceania region and to allocate resources according to need. Our MNA’s and our Oceania athletes have enormous potential provided they have access to adequate resources to allow them to fulfil their sporting dreams.
Q. In February 2013, the IOC will meet to decide the core Olympic sports for the 2020 Games. Is your organization doing or planning to do anything in particular to help Taekwondo remain as a core sport?
A. I will use my very best endeavours to make all the appropriate representations to the IOC members and the IOC itself to ensure that there is a very good understanding of why Taekwondo needs to be retained as a permanent full medal sport in future Olympic programs and why the sport of taekwondo is vital for the IOC and future Olympic Games. Our sport represents diversity, spirituality, tradition, multiculturalism, universality and equal opportunity and these are fundamentals of the Olympic movement.
All of our member nations will individually lobby their IOC members and be in constant communication with them but it is plainly obvious that Taekwondo as a sport, more than satisfies all the relevant criteria to be retained as a permanent Olympic sport beyond 2020.
Q. Do you have any special plans for the further development of the OTU?
A. As I previously indicated, despite our development as a continental union of the WTF we have much work to be done to catch up to other CU’s. We are a union of developing nations so the task ahead of us is very difficult but achievable if we all work hard for a common cause.
More training camps hosted by Australia and New Zealand, greater levels of sponsorship, greater allocation of WTF resources, individual athletes scholarships, development of coaches and officials are all part of my development plans for the OTU in 2013 and beyond.
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