Kick in Teeth 2: Under siege by leaderGod has his mysterious way of making things happen. He gave Korea taekwondo. That’s good. But he also gave Korea Kim Un-yong, head of both the World Taekwondo Association and World Taekwondo Headquarters, the Seoul-based institute that issues credentials. Now, why did he do that? If it was karma, it surely was not the good kind.
Taekwondo became an official sport of the summer Olympic Games 15 years ago. Since then, the sport has become what local media call a “gold medal box,” due to Korea’s dominance.
One might wonder how embedded taekwondo really is in Korean society. Taekwondo has not given birth to endless movie flicks. There is no Jackie Chan-like figure; the low-budget Hollywood flick, “Best of the Best” is probably the leading movie associated with taekwondo.
You might think that arguments are settled on the back streets of Seoul by way of some well-placed taekwondo kicks. Forget it. Today’s punks still prefer the old-fashioned throat or hair-grabbing technique to air their differences.
Nonetheless, taekwondo holds some status in society. From kindergarten onward little boys and girls are sent to gyms by their parents to hone their kicking skills. Even the Korean Army has made it mandatory for all conscripts to obtain at least a first-dan black belt.
Even so, taekwondo is under siege from outside and inside Korea. On Jan. 20 of this year, I wrote an article (“A Kick in the Teeth”) on how Korea has been losing its edge as more and more nations pick up on and adopt Koreans’ taekwondo training skills.
I also took pains to point out how corrupt I thought taekwondo society was in Korea. Taekwondo masters around the country complained that the declining quality of instructors at Kukkiwon ― the training center responsible for teaching and breeding new masters ― has contributed to an overall drop in the competitiveness of Korean taekwondo athletes on the world stage. At the time, the argument made by many folks in the taekwondo community was that instructors had “bought” their black belts.
At the center of all this mess is Kim Un-yong, an International Olympic Committee vice president and chairman of the Kukkiwon. He is facing bribery and embezzlement charges as he is suspected of using funds from the World Taekwondo Federation for personal use and accepting a payoff from a former Korean Olympic Committee member.
Could this be the end of the man who for more than three decades not only led this nation’s taekwondo community but also acted as Korea’s sports ambassador? I wish I could firmly say “yes,” but looking at Kim’s record I think he will somehow squeak through -- again.
This is a man who returned to his post as chairman of Kukkiwon last year after stepping down two years earlier amid scandals involving his son and taekwondo honchos close to him.
Korea’s taekwondo community needs to clean house. As long as so many close friends and supporters are entrenched at Kukkiwon there will be no end to this.
We cannot ― and should not be ― afraid anymore of losing a Korean on the olympic committee. That fear is what has made Mr. Kim just another life-long dictator.
by Brian Lee