Taekwondo - 07 Nov 2012 - By Callum Murray in Lausanne
The World Taekwondo Federation is collaborating with British Taekwondo on plans to launch a new, as-yet-unnamed, annual ‘world series’ of four grand prix events and a final late next year or early in 2014, as the WTF bids to create more high-standard competitions for its athletes.
The move follows the perceived success of the taekwondo competition at this summer’s Olympic Games in London
In an exclusive interview at the WTF’s headquarters in Lausanne, Switzerland, Jean-Marie Ayer, its secretary general, told Sportcal: “We are now putting together different elements of the world series, and some time early next year we should have a fully-fledged concept.
“The objective is to start the series in early 2014 or late 2013. We’re looking at about four grand prix events, plus a final. It will be an international series, and there is great interest from the UK association in hosting one of the events, and they’re also contributing to the development of the concept.
“I'm sure we'll find other countries to host events. There’s generally great interest to organise our events.”
Ayer said that the London Olympics had “set a benchmark” for the presentation of the sport at future events (the federation has set up a steering committee to analyse the London competition and make proposals for the 2016 games in Rio de Janeiro).
Ayer said: “You had the feeling that the athletes were the centre of the show. We want to reproduce this in other events. In future, it’s about creating a better show, a better experience for the athletes. We have to move on with added events, and a better chance for our top athletes to perform between Olympic Games and [the biennial] World Championships.”
As part of this strategy the federation is also considering the possibility of switching the World Championships, the next edition of which is in Puebla, Mexico next year, to become an annual event.
Ayer said: “We have to schedule our events so that we have the right number of competitions a year for our athletes. We’re evaluating how much it could be, but it will be in the range of six top competitions a year.”
He continued: “We’re currently working on the world series, a series of grand prix for our top-ranked athletes. We want to increase the quality of the athletes’ performances, and get better TV exposure. The objective is to take taekwondo one step higher in terms of exposure in media.”
Taekwondo athletes are not professional, but prize money will be on offer to entice them to compete. This will probably not amount to enough for them to earn a living, according to Ayer, who added, however: “Possibly if you’re famous, you will have sponsorship options [as well]. Some taekwondo athletes are in a very good financial situation, for others it’s more difficult. So the world series would provide more opportunities for them to get the exposure necessary for financial reward. And all athletes going to elite competitions would be likely to funded as part of elite development programmes in their own countries.”
Asked how the series will be funded, Ayer said that the federation would seek sponsors, although it is “too early to say” how many, or at what level. He added: “We want to make it attractive for sponsors. They’re looking for exposure, and then we’ll ask what else they’re looking for.”
At present, the federation has agreements with several taekwondo equipment companies and with Adidas, the German sportswear giant, to act as suppliers. Macquarie, the Korean bank, acts as a worldwide partner to the federation, and Ayer said that the federation is “in discussion with several other potential sponsors at the level of Macquarie.”
The federation could shortly be on the lookout for an agency to negotiate sponsorship deals on its behalf.
Ayer said: “Now with the world series we are looking at creating value for sponsors: the world series is part of the discussions. At the moment we do it [negotiate sponsorships] ourselves, but that could change, we could look for an agency. The job is becoming too big, too specialised; we’re now in a new dimension with better products, and we have to professionalise.”
The series would also be funded through the sale of media rights, but Ayer said that it was “too early” to say if an agency would be used in this context. Traditionally, the federation has sold its rights in-house, with the assistance of individual television rights experts.
Ayer said: “Our TV strategy is linked now with the world series, with the creation of a top series, which is a product that would be attractive to TV, and for which we can sell rights to various broadcasters around the world.
“We want an increased audience on TV and we also want to keep educating the public about what taekwondo is. Our biggest TV markets are in Asia – China and Korea, for example – but also in Mexico and South America (Brazil always buy rights for the World Championships).
“There’s also Turkey and Iran, and in Europe the UK is developing with the latest Olympic Games, and the success of the UK federation. It has a lot to do with the popularity of the athlete, and the world series has the objective to increase the popularity [of athletes such as the UK’s Jade Jones, who won a gold medal at the London Olympics].”
The federation believes that the appeal of the sport on television has been significantly enhanced by the recent introduction of the Protector Scoring System, or PSS, a transparent method that relies on body protectors that automatically register scoring hits and sense the strength of kicks, thus eliminating human error that was prevalent when judges had to assess power and accuracy themselves.
Ayer said: “Part of the objective of PSS is the fact that machine scoring, we believe, makes it easier for spectators to understand. Taekwondo is about precision and power, and the machine makes it very clear for everyone, because it measures the power. We’re going to continue making sure that people understand what the scoring system is about, that there’s no human decision, and everything is very rational.”
However, among the federation’s objectives for the next four-year Olympic cycle, Ayer lists a continuing improvement in technology.
He said: “PSS worked perfectly in London [at the Olympics], but we need to make it more practical, easier to use, and looking nicer. In general, we want to make the taekwondo athlete look more streamlined, more dynamic and flexible, so there is nothing to prevent them from performing as they would like to.
“We want to minimise the impact of the equipment on the athlete’s movements. We’re working with top advisers from the Swiss Institute of Technology to achieve this. Other suppliers are now interested in providing PSS, but we have to make sure the behaviour of every brand of PSS is working the same way.”
A further objective for the next four years, Ayer said, is for the federation to fully establish itself in Lausanne, developing more and more services there, and taking advantage of the conditions for “optimal communication with all other people in sports. Our president also has an office here and spends a number of weeks per year here, and we have an increasing presence.”
The federation presently employs about 20 people, and asked whether it would grow in conjunction with the planned increase in its activities, Ayer said: “Twenty is already a lot of people but we will have to evaluate as the revenues keep growing. It’s difficult to forecast, but for sure we need to build up highly specialised functions, like sponsorship. We need professionals in those functions.”
The federation’s annual budget is $6 million, with 40 to 50 per cent of this coming from the WTF’s share of the International Olympic Committee’s handout of commercial revenues, and with suppliers contributing about 20 per cent, sponsors another 20 per cent, and the remainder deriving from membership fees.