Taekwondo will be more thrilling, colorful at Rio Olympics
Taekwondo debuted as a demonstration Olympic sport at the 1988 Seoul Games and became an official medal event at the 2000 Sydney Games. Since then, the Korean martial art has grown into a global sport, adapting itself to modern times to attract more fans.
Taekwondo’s strong and fast growth has been helped by the continuous efforts of the sport’s international governing body in making the sport more fun and fair for all participants.
Introducing the wireless electronic scoring system to the sport is turning out to be a good enhancement. To reduce disputes regarding scoring decisions, the World Taekwondo Federation (WTF) decided to introduce the electronic scoring system at the 2012 London Olympics and it was received well.
WTF President Choue Chung-won, who knows more than anyone that the relentless pursuit of change is the only way to keeping the sport alive on the Olympic stage, said the international taekwondo governing body is never afraid of changes.
“If we are afraid of change, taekwondo would already have disappeared from the Olympics. But taekwondo now has become a core Olympic sport as we have been making continuous efforts over the years to make the sport more fun. And so we will introduce a renewed version of taekwondo in the upcoming Rio Olympics,” Choue said to The Korea Times at the WTF’s headquarters in central Seoul, June 17.
At this year’s Summer Games, which will take place in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, from August 5 to 21, taekwondo will be contested in four different weight classes for both men and women ranging from flyweight to heavyweight.
Giving some hints at changes in taekwondo at Rio, Choue said athletes will even use protective head gear equipped with electronic sensors.
“Just as we succeeded by introducing the electronic scoring system in London four year ago, we will use more technology to increase fairness and precision at the competitions. The athletes in London competed carrying their impact sensors on their bodies and socks only. In Rio, they will wear protective head gear with electronic sensors,” Choue said.
To add a more vibrant atmosphere to the sport in Rio, Choue said athletes will be able to wear colored uniform pants and can place their national flags on their uniforms.
“Athletes can also select their own entrance songs. I am sure these changes will add new excitement to the spectator experience in Brazil,” he said.
The other distinction in Rio will be the mat, Choue said. “Getting away from the previous square-shaped mat, athletes will compete on an octagon-shaped mat at the Rio Games. Against the backdrop that the combat sport is too boring, the WTF also shrank the ring from 10 by 10 meters to eight by eight meters in London. This will be another example of making taekwondo more exciting as the octagon-shaped mat will encourage combatants to engage in more continuous action,” he said.
To entertain more spectators in Rio, the WTF’s taekwondo demonstration team will also perform during intermissions. “The demonstration team began staging their performances starting at the London Games. To ensure that spectators don’t get bored, they will show their kicks and chops this year as well. This time, they will perform together with Brazilian dancers.”
For the first time among Olympic events, the WTF will field 15 male and 15 female international referees for Rio. “Amid growing attention to gender equality, taekwondo became the first Olympic sport to achieve gender equality as the total of 30 referees in Rio consists of 15 males and 15 females.
“To make this possible, we fielded more female referees at international championships starting three years ago to train them as they were typically less experienced than male referees. And now gender equality among the referees has been achieved,” Choue said.
After explaining some changes for Rio, Choue said these are part of the WTF’s survival strategy to maintain taekwondo’s status as an Olympic sport.
“The biggest reason for these changes is to provide taekwondo fans more excitement as we learned that any sport that doesn’t satisfy its spectators and TV viewers will not survive on the Olympic stage,” he said. “It is important for us to reflect upon those experiences. No one knows how taekwondo will be more interesting at the 2020 Olympics.”
Taekwondo contributes to society
Taekwondo not only has been contested in the Olympics, but has contributed to society, with taekwondo instructors who are members of the World Taekwondo Peace Corps (TPC) being sent to teach the sport and the Olympic spirit at over 100 developing countries.
“Nowadays, many devotees throughout the world enjoy cultural content produced in Korea, but I feel taekwondo has laid the foundation stone of such development. To promote taekwondo outside the country, many Korean masters have moved abroad and established academies all over the world. At the time, they couldn’t even imagine using the word taekwondo because no one knew what taekwondo was. So they had to hang a banner proclaiming that it was ‘Korean karate.’
“Thanks to their efforts, now there are more than 80 million taekwondo practitioners throughout the world. With many people enjoying the combat sport, I think it is time we increase our efforts to contribute to society,” Choue said.
Choue drew up a plan to establish the “Taekwondo Humanitarian Foundation” (THF) last year to teach taekwondo and related educational programs to refugees, especially children in refugee camps around the world. After announcing the plan during his speech at the United Nations in New York last September, the THF, an independent body, was officially established in Lausanne, Switzerland, in April.
Choue said that under the WTF’s World Taekwondo Cares Program, pilot projects are already underway in Syrian refugee camps in Jordan and Turkey and for earthquake victims in Nepal.
“The purpose of the THF is to guide children in refugee camps into the right path to become good citizens. After I visited a taekwondo academy at a refugee camp, I realized that the children have nothing to do after school. In such a harsh situation, there would be no dreams or hopes for them.
“As you know, taekwondo is a very economical sport. You don’t need anything but your body. As most of the refugee camps lack educational or leisure facilities, I believe teaching taekwondo will be very helpful for them,” he said. The THF will expand its activities to Rwanda and Djibouti. To make it easier for more refugees to learn taekwondo, the WTF signed a memorandum of understanding with the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR) in March. The THF recently opened its official website at www.thfaid.org.
Source: Korea Times (Baek Byung-yeul)