Taekwondo's Olympic future: The internationalization of the WTF
In its evaluation of the Beijing 2008 Olympic Games, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) informed the World Taekwondo Federation (WTF) with the strengths and weaknesses that our sport had at that time in order to remain in the official Olympic Program after Rio 2016. The Olympic governing body stressed as one of the weakest points of Taekwondo the need of the WTF to become more international.
IOC Vice-President Ser Miang Ng, stated last November that Taekwondo was developing “on the right direction”, but he also pointed out something else: “IOC’s message for improvement is clear. Taekwondo is practiced by people from all around the world, and as such, it must become more international”. Taekwondo is estimated to have around 70 million practitioners worldwide and has become Africa’s 2nd most popular sport after football.
The IOC had the perception that the WTF must develop into a more transparent sports governing body through the internationalization of its organization, staff, functions and work. The WTF understood the importance of the message and started to work on its opening to the world. If Taekwondo wanted to ensure its presence in the Olympics beyond Rio 2016, there was a lot of work to do.
WTF’s overhaul started with the opening of the Taekwondo governing body’s new office in Lausanne (Switzerland), which was inaugurated on the 1st of December 2006 and started to take over the IOC-related duties since its enlargement on the 5th of May 2009. In order to show the world its wish to become a global institution, the WTF President Dr. Chungwon Choue officially announced last 4th of July 2012 that the Lausanne office had become the WTF headquarters in replacement of the Seoul (USA) office. President Choue knew what was the message that needed to be sent: “From now on, the Lausanne office will gradually take over all the tasks and duties as the headquarters, including the already existing international and IOC-related ones”.
The next step was to designate international personalities to take charge of relevant positions within the WTF. Following this intention, Jean-Marie Ayer (Switzerland) was appointed new Secretary General in replacement of Jin Suk Yang (Korea) last 14th of February, Philippe Bouedo (France) took charge as the WTF Competition Director and Chakir Chelbat (Sweden) was named new Chairman of the WTF Referee Committee.
Another proof of WTF’s internal renovation is the current international composition of its Council:
– The President of both the WTF and its Council is Dr. Chungwon Choue (Korea).
– The WTF Council has 6 Vice Presidents: Mr. Phillip Walter Coles (Australia), Mr. Ivan Dibos (Peru), Gen. Ahmed Fouly (Egypt), Mr. Kamaladdin Heydarov (Azerbaijan), Mr. Dai Soon Lee (Korea) and Dr. Sun Jae Park (Italy).
– The Secretary General is Mr. Jean-Marie Ayer (Switzerland).
– The Treasurer of the Council is Mr. Tae Eun Lee (Canada)
– The rest of Members of the WTF Council are: Mr. Mohamed A.K. Al-Sulaiti (Qatar), Mrs. Maria Rosario Borello Castillo (Guatemala), Mr. Jesús Castellanos Pueblas (Spain), Ms. Aïcha Garad Ali (Djibouti), Mr. Heinz Gruber (Germany), Mr. Driss El Hilali (Morocco), Mr. Sung Chon Hong (Philippines), Mr. Issaka Ide (Niger), Mr. Milan Kwee (Singapore), Mr. Tae Kyung Kim (New Zealand), Prof. Kyu Seok Lee (Korea), Mr. Michel Madar (Israel), Mr. Mario Mandel Vaisman (Chile), Mr. Dai Won Moon (Mexico), Ms. Carine Lahoud (Lebanon), Mr. Fuzuli Musayev (Azerbaijan), Mr. Roger Piarulli (France), Mr. Seyed Mohammad Pouladgar (Iran), Mr. Metin Sahin (Turkey), Mr. Pimol Srivikorn (Thailand), Mr. Anatoly Konstantinovich Terekhov (Russia), Mr. Zhao Lei (China), Ms. Myriam Baverel (Athlete Council Member – France) and Mr. Dae-Sung Moon (Athlete Council Member – Korea).
– There are also 2 ex-officio members of the Council: Mr. Athanasios Pragalos (Greece) and Mr. Ji Ho Choi (USA).
The WTF Council is responsible for all the major decisions regarding Taekwondo worldwide. Every significant decision has to follow a democratic process and needs to be approved by the majority of the Council Members or the General Assembly, depending on its nature. The most crucial decisions approved by the Council during last year were: the creation of the Grand Prix Series as the new star competition of the the WTF, the inclusion of the the World Taekwondo Cadet Championships on WTF’s calendar, the awarding of the organization of the next WTF World Taekwondo Championships to the Mexican city of Puebla, the appointment of Ms. Aïcha Garad Ali (Djibouti) and Mr. Pimol Srivikorn (Thailand) as a new Members of the WTF Council and the approval of Botswana, Micronesia, Nauru, Palau and Seychelles as new Member National Assocations of the WTF. The Council was also the authority which gave green light to the last two modifications of WTF’s competition rules in 2012. Both regulation changes were later ratified by the General Assembly.
Apart from the Council, the WTF has 5 Continental Unions (European Taekwondo Union, Asian Taekwondo Union, Pan American Taekwondo Union, African Taekwondo Union and Oceania Taekwondo Union) aimed to supervise the good development of Taekwondo all around the world, as well as 14 specialized Committees in charge of more specific matters: Technical and Development Committe, Women’s Committee, TV and New Media Committee Committee, Marketing Committee, Coaches Committee, Paralympic Committee, Ethics Committee, Youth and Collegiate Committee, Antidoping and Medical Committee, Juridical Committee, Scientific Research Committee, Taekwondo Tour Event Committee, Expansion Committee and Athletes Committee.
All this internal renovation and opening to the world has lead to a change in the leadership of the WTF, which has progressively been transferred from the Seoul Office to the Lausanne Office, more international focused.
Becoming more global necessarily means to expand your presence all around the world. The WTF is aware of this principle and is working hard on promoting Taekwondo in every single country worldwide, having already reached 204 Member National Associations -experiencing a more than 30% increase since year 2000- and becoming one of the biggest International Sports Federation. Over 70% of these MNA’s can be considered as ‘active’ ones, as no less than 143 of them participated in Olympic qualifying. Another example of this growth is the fact that the 15 Championships organized by the WTF during 2012 were held in 14 different countries around the world.
Another point in which the WTF had to work on was the medal distribution in the Olympic Games. The universality of Taekwondo had been seriously questioned as Asian nations were always on top of the medal count, accumulating 4 of the 8 gold medals in Sydney, 7 in Athens and 6 in Beijing. All this factors put our sport in a quite dangerous situation ahead of this year’s IOC selection process, and the 2012 Olympics seemed to be the key to decide Taekwondo’s Olympic future. The WTF also did its job on this aspect and the numbers prove it: the 32 medals at London 2012 were won by 22 different countries. Spain lead the medal count with 1 gold medal and 2 silvers, helping Europe to take no less than 16 medals in total. Asian countries collected a total of 5 medals, with China taking 1 gold, 1 silver and 1 bronze and Korea clinching 1 gold and 1 silver. Since Taekwondo became Olympic in 2000, 28 different countries have clinched a medal.
In conclusion, the WTF became aware of its delicate situation in terms of global perception and properly worked on solving it. The Oceania Taekwondo Union (OTU) President and Australia’s IOC member, Mr Phil Coles, confirmed last month Taekwondo’s development as an Olympic sport:
“Our sport has been developing at a rapid pace since its introduction as a full medal sport at the 2000 Sydney Olympic Games. 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”.
“Moreover, 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”. And figures show this development: WTF’s Peace Corps have made 865 volunteers coach at 174 locations in 86 countries across all 5 Olympic continents.
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