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[In depth interview] Aid ready to develop taekwondo overseas

June 24,2009
Choue Chung-won, president of the World Taekwondo Federation, speaks in an interview with the JoongAng Daily on June 17. By Kim Hyeon-dong
World Taekwondo Federation president Choue Chung-won met with the JoongAng Daily Wednesday to discuss the state of the Korean martial art and where he plans to take it from here.

Choue recently celebrated his fifth year at the top of the world’s governing body for taekwondo. In those five years, he created a world championship for disabled athletes, introduced an instant replay system to eliminate judging controversies and opened an international office in Lausanne, Switzerland, to handle marketing and public relations. He is also in the running to become an International Olympic Committee member. Choue sat down for this interview at his office in WTF headquarters in downtown Seoul.



Q. You recently attended the inaugural World Para-Taekwondo Championships for disabled athletes in Baku, Azerbaijan. Can you talk about how you developed an interest in taekwondo for the physically challenged?

A. When I visited Guatemala in 2005, I went to a gym and saw disabled athletes training in one corner. As I watched them do poomsae (sequences of taekwondo moves) and kyukpa (breaking), I realized these athletes could compete. By giving disabled athletes this opportunity, they can develop confidence to overcome their challenges. And I felt that would greatly help their welfare and health, and also increase the number of practitioners of taekwondo around the world. I also decided to push to include taekwondo in the Paralympics.



Can you share your experience in Baku?

I had my reservations before. But the disabled athletes competed with more passion than able-bodied ones. I was glad we launched this tournament. It’s really difficult to describe how touching it was for everyone involved in the preparations to watch this successful event.

I met a few athletes, and they said they were using taekwondo to try to overcome their physical problems and to lead as normal a life as possible. They also told me about their dreams of competing in the Paralympics and asked me to help them realize their dreams. According to the International Paralympic Committee, a sport may be considered for inclusion only if there have been at least two international championships for [disabled athletes in] that sport, with athletes from at least 25 countries from three continents. We’re trying to bring the second para-taekwondo championships to Korea, the birthplace of taekwondo. We’re targeting the 2016 Paralympics for the inclusion of taekwondo.



Electronic protectors were used for the first time at the para-taekwondo championships and the World Cup Taekwondo Team Championships, also in Baku. [These devices are touch-sensitive and are designed to help judges award points based on where a valid technique has landed on the body.] What were the athletes’ and coaches’ reactions to the new gear?

There’s still plenty of room for improvement on electronic protectors. They’re still susceptible to humidity and moisture [sweat], and that could lead to some malfunctioning. We need to get them perfectly waterproof. From athletes’ and coaches’ perspectives, electronic protectors level the playing field because they eliminate human error [in judging]. There are still problems with the gear and we will have to go on a competition-by-competition basis.



Since you became the president five years ago, you’ve worked on reforming judging in taekwondo. Aside from adopting electronic protectors, what improvements have you made?

First, I tried to bring more structure to referee training. Any sports with referees will experience officiating problems. That’s all part of the game. But fair play is the Olympic spirit, and it’s important for governing bodies of Olympic sports to try to achieve that. Perhaps human mistakes are still there, but intentional mishaps are almost all gone. Because of the speed in taekwondo, there’s a limit to what human eyes can see. There are also blind spots between the referee and two athletes, and electronic devices help in that regard.

The most revolutionary change was the introduction of the instant video replay system. On disputed plays, the blue and the red corner get the video officials’ attention by raising the card of their corner’s color. The referee can overturn points based on a video replay, and that has eliminated judging controversy.

However, there were too many requests for replays [at recent events], and unless we can put a cap on the number of appeals per bout, it could disrupt the flow. We will discuss that in our technical committee. But the introduction itself can be deemed a 100 percent success, and I think it will make a major contribution to changing unfair officiating in taekwondo. Officials are all human, and we have to acknowledge mistakes and try to improve.



What’s the future of taekwondo as an Olympic sport?

At the 2016 Olympics, taekwondo will be one of 26 core sports, as determined at the meeting of the Association of Summer Olympic International Federations and the executive board of the International Olympic Committee in March. [The IOC General Assembly in October in Copenhagen, Denmark, will cast a bloc vote on the fate of the 26 sports.]

I know there have been detractors of taekwondo, but I’d like to ask them why taekwondo should be dropped from the Olympics. Is there any other sport in the world enjoyed by as many people? Sixty-four countries competed and 22 of them took home at least one medal. How many Olympic sports can you say that about?



You’ve just celebrated your fifth anniversary as WTF chief. Do you have anything to say about your five years at the top of world taekwondo?

I think I’ve globalized the WTF. When we opened our office in Lausanne, Switzerland, on May 5, 2009, IOC President Jacques Rogge attended the ceremony and gave a congratulatory speech. That showed how much taekwondo had grown as a sport, and it was very gratifying.

As the governing body of taekwondo under the auspices of the IOC, the WTF must be global. Failing to do so will only give ammunition to our critics. If we can allow the Lausanne office to flourish as the center for our international affairs, public relations and marketing, then taekwondo will evolve from a Korean martial art into a genuine Olympic sport enjoyed by everyone around the world. The ultimate goal is to develop taekwondo on the global stage so that it’s not just a sport for Koreans.


At the Olympics, many people say taekwondo is a boring event. How would you solve that problem?

When I took the reins five years ago, those around me made the same point. But anyone who watched the team championships would disagree. We now have a different point system and have reduced the competition size from 10 meters by 10 meters to 8 meters by 8 meters. We award two points for a turning kick and three points for a facial attack. You can be down two points and get ahead with one attack. It can only get more exciting from here because coaches will now demand more techniques from their athletes [knowing no lead is safe]. With competition tighter, there’s no more room to wiggle around.



What are your future plans?

I plan to provide more financial aid and human resources to countries where taekwondo is still in its infancy or is underdeveloped. We will send coaches to such countries so that taekwondo can take deep root and develop from there.

We recently created the Taekwondo Peace Corps. We select university students as volunteers and send them to places where coaches are needed. We plan to accept applications from foreign students, too.

I’d like to see taekwondo become part of the curriculum at elementary schools in many countries. It teaches etiquette and correct attitudes. And having such students [move on to] middle schools will help resolve violence and bullying issues at school. Taekwondo is an incredible source of dreams and hope for youth. Taekwondo is a gift to the world.



By Yoo Jee-ho [jeeho@joongang.co.kr]



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