Members of the World Taekwondo Federation are hoping that their sport has done enough in its first four appearances at the Olympic Games to merit inclusion past their fifth. The sport faces an International Olympic Committee review this year to determine whether or not it will remain as a core sport past the 2016 Games in Rio De Janeiro. The IOC has introduced a revised set of regulations for the 2020 Games that will see one of the 26 core Olympic sports lose its status and become an exhibition event, and as one of the newer kids on the block, taekwondo is one of the sports up for consideration.
The process begins with the Olympic Program Commission meetings on February 13th and 14th. There, Italian senior IOC member Franco Carraro will present to the executive board an OPC report on which sports have been deemed eligible to cut. These proposals will be weighed against new Olympic-eligible sports to be put forward during the week-long SportAccord convention at the end of May. The IOC then has the summer to let the proposals marinate before convening on September 7th for the 125th IOC Session in Argentina, where the official vote takes place to make the final decision.
Several factors will be considered in the selection process, the first of which being the internationalization of each sport. This was an issue that troubled taekwondo through the first three Olympic appearances, as Asian nations exhibited dominance at the top of the medal count. The London Games in 2012 may however be the saving grace, as Europe was able to top Asia for the first time in total medals, thanks in big part to a brilliant performance by the Spanish squad. It didn’t happen overnight, but the desired effect of increased parity was finally reached in 2012.
The IOC will also look at the overall popularity of each event, another criteria which hampered taekwondo’s growth through their firs three Games. In Sydney, Athens, and Beijing respectively, ticket sales and attendance at Olympic taekwondo events were dismal. WTF organizers sought to buck this trend and aggressively sought to attack the issues that were seen as a detriment to the sport, implementing new competition rules, protective gear, and a video replay system to ensure fairness of officiating. The improvements were a resounding success as London’s taekwondo events were sold out across the board, as were television ratings.
It seems that the London 2012 could very well serve as the saving grace for taekwondo as an Olympic event, as the sport saw a boom in interest internationally after the Games. Taekwondo now enjoys an all-time high in viewership, and it’s going to need to if it intends to stave off sports such as karate for inclusion in the 2020 Games. Bear in mind that an all-time high in taekwondo viewership is still relatively low in the big scheme of things, as it is far from a household name in the sporting world. That said, you can expect the WTF to pull out all the stops this year as they make a major push to impress the powers that be. If you’re a fan, and you’d like to see taekwondo continue on the Olympic stage, then now is the time to start tuning in, writing in, and buying tickets to local national and international events. Now more than ever, the voice of the world’s taekwondo fans must be heard.