In line with the IOC’s Olympic Agenda 2020, and in response to the global refugee crisis, the WTF is creating a focused new charitable arm: The Taekwondo Humanitarian Foundation. What does it do and what does it offer? Here is the story so far
One of the greatest crises facing humanity is the flood of desperate refugees flowing across international borders.
According to the latest figures from the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, or UNHCR, there are some 20 million refugees worldwide, and the figure goes up to about 60 million when those internally displaced inside their own nations and those seeking asylum are added.
Meanwhile, the International Olympic Committee, or IOC, via its Olympic Agenda 2020, has been urging International Federations to conduct social responsibility programs.
It was against the backdrop of these developments that WTF President Chungwon Choue began, last year, considering what role taekwondo could or should play. The result of his thinking and related discussions was the Taekwondo Humanitarian Foundation, or THF, a body designed specifically to help refugees and displaced persons. It is an issue that Choue himself feels strongly about, given his personal history.
“I consider myself not a Korean, but a citizen of the world. However – as a Korean passport holder – this initiative is close to my heart,” he said. “I am old enough to remember the devastation of the 1950-1953 Korean War and the many nations that rallied to Korea’s aid in those dark years. Now, as a Korean who heads the global taekwondo family, I can return that favor by giving something back.”
While Choue had experience in charitable work – he has previously presided over the creation of the Taekwondo Peace Corps, which dispatches young Korean instructors on short-term teaching missions around the world – he was also advised by Saudi Arabia/UK-based taekwondo master Usman Dildar. His London-based schools had, on their own initiative, raised money and delivered humanitarian supplies to “The Jungle” refugee camp in Calais, France, and the Afghanistan-born Dildar had relevant life experiences.
“I spent time growing up in refugee camps in Afghanistan and so I know first-hand the levels of fear, anxiety and indeed boredom of having nothing to do each day,” he said. “I know that our sport has a values system that can help provide structure to refugees’ time in camps and hopefully give them a passion and a future beyond their time in the camps. My real hope is that we make a long-term difference.”
The THF is designed to assist two groups of people: refugees – persons forced abroad for political reasons, such as war; and displaced persons – those who have lost their homes for other reasons, such as natural disasters, but remain in their own nations.
The WTF recognizes that the organization’s core competency is taekwondo. For this reason, the THF will not attempt to provide the basic life-saving elements of human existence: shelter, food, water, medical assistance, and security. There is no point in the THF duplicating the efforts of a myriad of competent multinational, governmental and non-governmental organizations which already carry out these tasks.
So, instead of life-saving, the THF’s key mission is life empowerment: upgrading the lives and lifestyles of refugees and displaced persons by teaching them the sport, martial art and physical discipline of taekwondo, backed up, where necessary, by equipment and infrastructure provision. Related educational programs on Olympism, world peace and global citizenship are part of the offering. “Sport should be a ‘school of life,’ respectful of Olympic values,” said WTF Lausanne Office Director General Roger Piarulli.
The importance of physical and mental empowerment should not be underestimated. Many refugees – particularly children – are in poor health and are psychologically fragile. Many are physically and/or emotionally traumatized. And in many camps, there are few constructive activities available; little for refugees to do in terms of leisure and education. Such an existence can be soul-destroying.
This is where taekwondo – which
requires no special playing field or court, nor any special bats, balls or equipment, making it perhaps the world’s most economical, most easily deployable sport – comes into its own.
As a physical exercise delivering stamina, flexibility, agility and strength, it builds and rehabilitates physiques. As a martial art teaching self-defence, it inculcates self-belief and self-confidence. And as an Olympic sport, it teaches the values of fair play and of friendship across all borders of gender and age, color and creed, ethnicity and nationality.
Moreover, when refugees are offered asylum in nations where they have no family or social contacts, taekwondo – via local clubs – offers an immediate network in their new homes. It also grants dan-grade holders a means of generating income, via coaching. And of course, for elite players, it dangles the dream of sporting glory. For example, Iran-born, Belgium-based athlete Raheleh Asemani has qualified for Rio 2016 despite her refugee status (see separate story in this issue).
To be successful, the THF must observe three essential guidelines. All programs and activities must be aligned, sustainable and transparent.
“Aligned” means working in close cooperation with other stakeholders such as governmental agencies, non-governmental organizations, partners and sponsors. “Sustainable” means they must have long-term feasibility; there are no quick fixes. And “Transparent” means open and well communicated, so all stakeholders know that programs are well run and that funds are being well spent.
To carry out its mission, the WTF will dispatch taekwondo instructors to refugee camps and to displaced persons’ areas to teach.
While external instructors, such as Taekwondo Peace Corps and WTF Demonstration Team members, can play a role in getting programs started, ideally, instructors will be locals themselves. This ensures that: there are no language or cultural barriers; that money is being spent on locals, not outsiders; and that programs are sustainable, long term.
Uniforms and equipment will be provided by the THF when and where needed and the foundation will acquire or build physical dojangs which can be used for educational purposes as well as for taekwondo per se.
Following a range of working-level meetings, the THF concept was discussed and approved by the WTF Council in 2015.
The foundation’s existence and mission was formally announced to the world in a speech delivered by WTF President Choue to the UN headquarters in New York on Sept. 21, 2015.
A branded logo has already been created. Featuring the head of a lion, a majestic and aspirational animal, it embodies the key THF virtue: empowerment.
Organizationally, the THF is being set up in the WTF’s Lausanne office, at the heart of the Olympic movement.
With the foundation still being legally established at time of writing, no formal marketing or fund-raising initiatives have yet been instituted.
However – wasting no time – alignments have already been established with the UN, UNHCR and the Jordanian, Turkish and Nepalese governments. The WTF is to sign a memorandum of understanding with the UNHCR in Geneva, Switzerland on March 10, 2016. The WTF has conducted several pilot projects at refugee camps in Jordan and Turkey, and among displaced persons in earthquake-struck Nepal.
These programs are designed to be benchmarks, delivering important lessons for the foundation once it begins full–scale operations in 2016.
The WTF plans to leverage the Summer Olympics in August as a platform to raise the THF’s visibility globally. And following Rio, and in order to maintain momentum, a bespoke, high-profile event will likely take place in central Seoul’s City Hall plaza in September.
So what does this all mean for WTF members? While the core mission is to assist refugees and displaced persons, it has a collateral benefit for the WTF rank and file. The programs offer WTF members something that every human with a conscience desires at some point in his or her life: the opportunity to do good.
The WTF will be actively suggesting ways in which Continental Unions and Member National Associations, as well as competition organizers, dojangs and even coaches and athletes can help raise visibility, raise funds, or otherwise volunteer and assist.
The key information channels are the WTF and THF websites and Facebook pages, as well as direct communications from CUs and MNAs. Expect to see viral THF information appearing online on social media, and offline on the sidelines of major WTF competitions.
Naturally, the WTF is keeping its eye firmly fixed on its main task: administering taekwondo globally. But as the IOC has made clear, even sports organizations need to think beyond the field of play, and come up with ways to assist the wider family of humanity.
”For the WTF, 2016 is an Olympic year and of course, all eyes will be on our elite athletes as they fight it out in Rio,” Choue said. “But we are also thinking beyond the competition floor – and what better way to balance the world’s greatest sporting event than with meaningful humanitarian action?”