Leveling the taekwondo field for the sport’s sakeKimchi and taekwondo are both identified as icons of Korea.
Nevertheless, when Kim Un-yong ― once one of the most powerful figures on the international sports scene and the driving force behind taekwondo’s recognition as an official Olympic sport at the 2000 Sydney Olympic games ― faded, there was talk that the fate of the country’s martial art was sealed.
There were urgent calls to find a replacement for Mr. Kim so that taekwondo could remain an official Olympic sport. The argument was that a powerful person like Mr. Kim was needed to safeguard the interest of taekwondo and that of the country. Wrong.
While we don’t know whether taekwondo will remain in the Olympics, what is certain is that unless refereeing controversies in the sport are cleaned up, we can only blame ourselves if it eventually loses its appeal as a global sport.
Even if it holds on for the 2008 Beijing Olympics, at the end of the day there is always the possibility of taekwondo being excluded from the Olympic ranks as long as there is international grumbling that taekwondo is not competed on a level field.
We have been hailing the sport as a “medal box,” but other countries have been complaining that Korean athletes received some help at the Olympics from referees who were influenced by Korean taekwondo officials who held senior positions at international taekwondo organizations.
The most shocking revelation that matches might be improperly influenced came from none other than Lee Jong-woo, an influential senior figure in the taekwondo world who admitted in a 2002 interview with a South Korean magazine that he told referees “indirectly” during the 2000 Sydney Olympics to advance Korean players.
When I had the opportunity to talk to him about it while working on some stories on taekwondo, he admitted doing so. Other statements that I have gathered over the years from taekwondo-personalities such as Herb Perez of the United States, a gold medalist at Barcelona, convinced me that at least some officials have been tampering with the game for Korea’s advantage.
There might be doubters, but that’s enough to convince me that there was something checkered in taekwondo’s dominance by Korean athletes.
Taekwondo officials have said that a scoring system aided by electronic equipment will be used at the 2008 Beijing Olympics to enhance fairness. If that indeed happens, it will greatly help in calming opinion that South Korea cares only to preserve a certain number of medals for its own country.
But talk is cheap. An official of the company that developed the electronic gear told me that it is ready for use. That was two years ago. Disturbingly, he told me that without the approval of taekwondo officials, he is not able to release the gear for overseas use, though the equipment has been occasionally used in domestic competitions. I hope this is not an attempt by someone to keep an advantage for Korean martial artists by exposing them to new scoring equipment before others.
The best thing to do right now is to distribute the equipment overseas as soon as possible so that everyone has a chance to get accustomed to it.
by Brian Lee