Look out - taekwondo could be under Olympic attackA toothless, hollow smile: That’s a good description of taekwondo’s status today.
The Korean martial art was introduced as a demonstration sport in the 1988 Seoul Olympics, and has been an official sport since the 2000 Sydney games. Everything might seem to be in order for taekwondo, and many Koreans take it for granted that things will continue to go smoothly. But though taekwondo will still be an official Olympic sport for the 2008 Beijing games, what will happen after that is anybody’s guess.
There are only two martial arts in the Olympics: judo and taekwondo. It’s safe to say that judo, an Olympic sport since 1964, has cemented its position in the Olympics, but taekwondo’s reputation has been tainted by several judging controversies in which South Korean athletes seemed to be favored.
Jacques Rogge, the IOC president, has said that he would like to keep the number of Olympic sports at the current 28. That would mean that for any new sport selected for the Olympics, one would be bumped off the list. It has been quite a while since a sport got booted ―it last happened to polo, in 1936 ― but within the taekwondo community, the worries are getting more intense.
Taekwondo officials recently gathered for an unofficial meeting to discuss the future of the sport. What might have seemed unthinkable a couple of years ago has now become a possibility in the minds of these senior officials.
A couple of good suggestions have been put on the table. To bring more life into the sport and make it more interesting for the spectators, some changes in the point allotments for certain techniques are being considered.
As of the Athens Games this summer, a successful kick to an opponent’s head means the athlete gets two points; if the kick knocks the opponent down, the athlete gets an additional point, for a maximum of three. Kicks to other allowed areas of the body score one point each. Punching has been almost nonexistent. Taekwondo experts like Lee Jong-woo argue that the point spread for the different skills used needs to be wider in order to spark more exciting moves by the athletes. But above all, Lee stresses the need for the introduction of electronic gear, to ensure fair competition.
Well, 2012 may look far away, but the decision as to which sports will remain in the Olympics will be made soon enough. Establishing a clean image for taekwondo should be priority number one for federation officials, but I don’t think that message has gotten out yet. A person I promised not to name, who works for the only company in Korea that has developed electronic gear, told me repeatedly that his company is ready to ship the equipment if permission is given. Permission from whom?
“We have developed the gear with the help of the Korea Taekwondo Association. They are our sponsors, but as far as making the gear available worldwide, I haven’t heard anything,” he said.
Any sincere attempts to give taekwondo a chance should start now. Otherwise, China’s chance of getting wushu into the Olympic Games at the expense of taekwondo are looking better. If that happens, we can only blame ourselves.
by Brian Lee