Taekwondo athletes struggle for Olympics dream

Taekwondo at the 2016 Summer Olympics – Women's 49 kg awarding ceremony 5
Taekwondo at the 2016 Rio Summer Olympics – Photo by: Ilgar Jafarov

When Taekwondo was accepted for the 2000 Sydney Olympic Games, the martial art would see a continual evolving into another category of an Olympic sport. The popularity would eventually grow into a global phenomenon where an untold number of practitioners would move toward the hopes and dreams of becoming an Olympic athlete.

The World Taekwondo Federation (WTF) would share this hope and dream by explaining: “Its universality means that all taekwondo athletes can dream of an Olympic medal and have a real chance of bringing home their first ever Olympic medal for their countries.”

Most recently, many across social media avenues are asking the question: “How do you get to the Olympics without funding?” For those practitioners who are fortunate enough to have the financial backing to train and travel to compete in grade ranking tournaments, they most often have the financial means to be able to compete at the Olympics level. But what about those who may not have the funds needed to continually compete in tournaments across the country and even more so, the ability to reach the Olympics competition?

Although martial arts are excluded, the XXIII Olympic Winter Games are just around the corner as it will run between February 9-25, hosted in South Korea; serving as yet another reminder for Taekwondo athletes their chance for Olympic Gold will be coming sooner than later as the 2020 Olympics will be held in Tokyo, Japan from July 24th to August 9th.

2020 Summer Olympics
Games of the XXXII Olympiad

The concern and frustration is noted in various statements mentioned throughout social media outlets:

“With the Grand Prix circuit and G1 to G4 competitions all counting towards ranking points, how do non-funded countries and players realistically get to the games? If you look at podium finishes and budgets of teams, you will see that teams with bigger budgets and resources consistently place higher.”

“The Grand Prix does not have the best 32 players in the World per category. It has the players that can afford to go. Continental qualification is the only route for many but you still need G1 experience to be a realistic contender. There are some great players trying to break through but talent without a bank role is going to get you nowhere. Taekwondo is no longer a sport for the masses but sport for the rich.”

“Taekwondo or at least the international elite in performance part is a financial deal. There are competitors that simply can’t afford to even take part in more than 1-2-3 G1 tournaments per year that would obliterate some of the so called “contenders” in Grand Prix competitions.”

With seemingly unsurpassable odds, how does a Taekwondo athlete without a so-called “bank role” reach their dream of Olympic competition? For many, it all comes down to the Taekwondo principle of Indomitable Spirit.

Case in point: Jackie Galloway, a student of Chang Lee’s Taekwondo in Garland, Texas.

From becoming the Pan American Games champion in 2011 to the Collegiate World Champion in 2014, Jackie also won the bronze medal for Team USA at the 2015 WTF World Taekwondo Championships in Chelyabinsk, Russia once again proving herself as an Olympic contender.

As she was preparing for the Rio 2016 Summer Olympic Games she explained her cause in working toward securing Olympic Sponsorship for her ability to compete in Brazil:

“As a 2016 Olympic hopeful, my dream is to represent the USA in the Olympics. The current system for Amateur Taekwondo Athletes in this country requires the athlete to be either self-funded or secure sponsorship.”

“A Taekwondo athlete’s International Ranking is the key factor to determining candidacy for the 2016 Olympics. This requires participation in as many high-level tournaments as possible. Raising funds is vital to achieving my Olympic dream.”

Jackie’s bio certainly proved her International Ranking factor to be accepted to compete in the Rio Games, but without the needed sponsorship, her Olympic dream may have remained out of reach. With determination and a lot of hard work, Jackie was able to raise the funds to travel to Brazil and compete in the 2016 Olympics securing the Bronze Medal in return.

However, it remains a financial obstacle felt by many Taekwondo athletes around the world as one practitioner from Australia voiced their concern via social media:

“Money is affecting competition at all levels of the sport, not just G1. The biggest issue we face in Australia is the Daedo (and other electronic systems like KP&P) being updated and changed when we have only just bought the gear. In the space of one year, I personally had to buy three separate sets of Daedo socks – the first set, then the updated “grey” set with the improved sensor chips, then the “new” socks with the heel sensor. This is a ridiculous sum of money for me, but even more so for my students who are still teens and only Blue and Red Belt level.”

Another Taekwondo athlete noted:

“When athletes feel that they are being fleeced for their hard earned money at every opportunity, they lose interest in competition. When this happens, we lose our best athletes and end up with B-list or even worse being given the funding and losing publicly. This never happened with standard Hogus. The best athletes fought hard, won, and earned their places on international teams. Money was never an issue and we should go back to that system, for the good of the athletes and the good of the sport.”

As those such as Jackie Galloway take it upon themselves to continue their hard work in securing a path to their Olympics dream, perhaps the World Taekwondo Federation can work toward a future where Sport Taekwondo, including a chance for Olympic Gold, truly is an opportunity for all regardless of one’s financial standing.


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