The retention of taekwondo as an Olympic sport may have been driven by its global governing body’s efforts to reform and spread the Korean marital art, officials said.
At the executive board meeting of the International Olympic Committee in Lausanne, Switzerland, Tuesday, the traditional Korean sport was kept as one of 25 “core sports” in the Summer Olympic program. Wresting was dropped.
“Our reform efforts to improve the operation of matches seem to have been appreciated at the meeting,” an official of the Seoul-based World Taekwondo Federation said Wednesday.
Taekwondo debuted as an official sport in the 2000 Sydney Summer Olympics, but was plagued by controversies over decisions, a factor sapping its appeal. The negative perception of the sport as being dull and vulnerable to controversy raised the risk of losing out in the IOC’s scrutiny.
The federation came up with reform plans to meet standards demanded by the IOC and has carried them out steadily.
It launched a reform committee in 2004 after the Athens Olympics, and presented the IOC with a blueprint amounting to about 200 pages in 2005. In the following years, the Seoul-based federation has continuously sought changes to boost audience the appeal of the sport.
In the 2004 Athens Olympics, coaches and players protested decisions even as they were watched by IOC President Jacques Rogge. In the 2008 Beijing Olympics, a decision was overturned, sending the angry defeated athlete kicking toward a judge in protest.
But protests and disputes regarding decisions were absent from the 2012 London Olympics.
The federation introduced the protector and scoring system, which electronically senses kicks and punches on the protecting vest and headgear. It also adopted the Instant Video Replay system as a follow-up measure. These technologies inarguably raised the fairness and transparency of decisions, not to mention player safety.
“Taekwondo was operated with one of the most sophisticated systems among all Olympic sports (in the London Olympics),” Choue Chung-won, the South Korean-born WTF president, told Korean reporters in the Swiss city Tuesday.
Officials also have tried to make bouts more exciting to spectators. The federation reduced the size of the arena twice ― once each in the 2008 and 2012 Olympics ― in the hope of inducing more attacks.
Officials and practitioners have struggled to promote the sport throughout the world. This year marks the 40th anniversary of the World Taekwondo Federation, which boasts as many as 204 affiliates worldwide.
Taekwondo will be staged as an official sport in the European Games to be held in Baku, Azerbaijan, in 2015. The Summer Olympics, the Asian Games, the Pan-America Games, the African Games and the Oceania Games have so far staged the sport. With its adoption in the European Games, taekwondo will be featured across six continents.
Though some Koreans may feel disappointed at their country’s status in the sport, eight gold medals were won by eight countries in the London Olympics. It reflects the sport being practiced quite evenly worldwide, and may have a positive effect on the IOC executive board meeting.
Now that taekwondo has an extended Olympic life, the federation faces challenges to further boost the popular appeal of the sport.
By Chun Sung-woo (firstname.lastname@example.org)