By Kim Jae-kyoung
"Peace is more precious than triumph."
This is not the message from Pope Francis to the world but from World Taekwondo (WT) President Choue Chung-won to ramp up efforts to tackle the refugee crisis across the world.
Choue, also chairman of the Taekwondo Humanitarian Foundation (THF), believes that sport should instill dreams and hopes in refugee children, and taekwondo, Korea's traditional martial art featured in the Olympics, can play a leading role in this purpose.
The five-term president of WT, the International Federation governing the world's most famous combat sport, is trying best to spread this lofty message throughout the world.
|World Taekwondo (WT) President Choue Chung-won talks with The Korea Times during a recent interview at the WT's headquarters in Seoul. / Korea Times photo by Choi Won-suk|
"The 21st century is the era of sharing and living together, and sport has great potential to contribute to world peace," Choue said in a recent interview at the WT's headquarters in Seoul.
"It is important to foster taekwondo as a popular and fun sport but taekwondo, as an Olympic sport, must be thought of as something that plays a positive role in making the world a better place," he added.
Under Choue's leadership, WT puts up a banner with this message in a local language where its demonstration team is performing.
His philosophy has been shown well in WT's seamless efforts to become a responsible body to promote peace through a variety of activities.
Choue, who has also served as board member of the Olympic Refuge Foundation since 2017, stressed the importance of providing support for young children and students.
"The young people in refugee towns have no place to go after school. Taekwondo can be a starting point for cherishing their hopes," he said.
In 2016, in cooperation with the Olympics Committee, WT opened the door for people with refugee status to attend the Olympic Games.
"We plan to expand our efforts by giving more opportunities for these young people to participate in the Summer Olympic Games in Tokyo in 2020," he said.
To this end, the THF, established under the leadership of Choue in 2016 to deliver taekwondo training and education for refugees, has conducted a number of projects in many countries, including Jordan, Nepal, Turkey, Djibouti, Rwanda and France.
On June 3, THF signed a memorandum of understanding with Rome and the Italian Taekwondo Federation (FITA) to support refugees in the local community of the Italian capital through taekwondo. Rome was also named as the THF ambassador city.
FITA, a long-time supporter of the humanitarian activities, collaborated with the THF two years ago in delivering programs in a refugee camp in Rome.
"With its growing number of refugees, the city is aware of the seriousness of the refugee crisis, and is now seeking to find a solution to solve the European refugee problem through taekwondo," Choue said.
"The main purpose is to support the youth in refugee villages and educate them to become good citizens."
In a related move, WT opened its 10th regional training center named "The Giulio Onesti facility" in the Italian capital on June 4.
Built on an area of 25 hectares, Giulio Onesti accommodates both indoor and outdoor facilities, including three training courts, six classrooms and accommodation for up to 200 people.
In April, the THF opened its first dedicated taekwondo training facility, the Azraq Taekwondo Academy, in the Azraq refugee camp in Jordan.
Located 90 kilometers away from the Jordan- Syrian border, the Azraq camp, a facility for refugees who escaped from the Syrian civil war, serves many boys and girls by teaching taekwondo skills and providing necessary education for their futures.
Choue's passion for supporting refugees comes from his strong belief that the refugee crisis should be taken as a global crisis.
"There are soaring numbers of refugees worldwide and half of them are women and children. We must all work together to solve this global problem," he said.
|World Taekwondo President Choue Chung-won shakes hands with Pope Francis in St. Peter's Square in Vatican City on May 30 after the organization's first-ever demonstration in the presence of the Pope. / Courtesy of World Taekwondo|
Taekwondo has become a medium for the Vatican City to join hands with WT to support women and young people in refugee camps.
"In 2016, the Vatican first showed interest in sport, and WT put on a taekwondo demonstration at an indoor auditorium in the city," Choue said.
In late May, WT performed the first-ever demonstration in the presence of the Pope in St. Peter's Square in Vatican City with thousands in the audience. The performance ended with the unfurling of a banner reading "Peace is more precious than triumph" in Italian.
Pope Francis, who received an honorary 10th dan black belt from Choue in May last year, has expressed keen interest in the THF's efforts to support refugees.
Choue said that taekwondo's role in improving inter-Korean relations is a great example of how sport can contribute to peace and stability.
"I believe that taekwondo has played an important role in finding a breakthrough for inter-Korean relations by creating a thawing atmosphere behind the scene," he said.
As a result of WT's efforts, taekwondo participants from South and North Korea, which represent WT and the International Taekwondo Federation (ITF), respectively, performed together at the pre-show of the Opening Ceremony of the PyeongChang 2018 Winter Olympic Games in February.
The joint demonstration was an iconic moment for taekwondo as it showed the sport's potential to bring peace to the Korean Peninsula.
|Participants from World Taekwondo demonstration team give a performance in the presence of the Pope Francis, right, in St. Peter's Square in Vatican City on May 30. / Courtesy of World Taekwondo|
Along with his efforts to support refugee children and women, Choue has spared no efforts to reinvent taekwondo as the most exciting and popular combat sport through reformative measures.
First, WT is working to improve its official "dobok" (uniform) by upgrading its design and materials.
"Current uniforms have problems with functionality. Using materials to better absorb sweat and improve air permeability, we will develop new uniforms that can ensure more comfortable movements for participants," he said.
The organization plans to unveil new uniforms within this year and use them at the World Taekwondo Championships in 2019.
Another innovative attempt underway is to add the mixed gender team event to the Olympics.
"We are currently discussing details, including the scoring system and technique, with the aim of introducing the new event at the 2024 Paris Olympics," he said.