I FINALLY MEET HIM
Three appointments in one day &rdash; and what appointments! Horrible traffic and a train trip at 300 Km an hour.
By Ennio Falsoni
I have recently returned from Korea where I had a brief, but very intense visit.
I finally met him, and to do so I had to put up with a 16-hour voyage, between flights and airport terminals. The meeting took place the day after I arrived, in a reserved conference room of Seoul’s Marriott Hotel, one of the most modern in the city. I had been waiting for this meeting for a very long time. Indeed, the man I was about to meet was the founder of modern Taekwondo and the creator of the WTF (World Taekwondo Federation). In his role as Vice President of the International Olympic Committee (IOC) and a man very close to Spain’s Juan Antonio Samaranch, who guided the IOC for 21 years, he succeeded in gaining entrance for Taekwondo into the Olympic Games &rdash; surprise, surprise &rdash; that he himself had obtained for his country, Korea, in 1988. The man is Dr. Un Yong Kim, a holder of three university degrees. He has been Councilor of the Korean Ambassador in Washington, Chief of the Protective Forces of the President of Korea, President of the Korean Olympic Committee, President of the Canoeing Federation, and who knows what else. In other words, he is one of the big shots of worldwide sports.
In 1993, after several months of waiting, I went to Monte Carlo to personally deliver the WAKO application for recognition by GAISF, of which Un Yong Kim was President. When I arrived at the offices in the center of Monte Carlo Un Yong Kim had just left, thus our meeting was not to be. I was later told that Un Yong Kim’s meetings never lasted more than 50 minutes, not even the ones where budget approval or other problems were involved.
The meeting that failed to take place was unfortunate because speaking directly to people, connecting with them to be more convincing, has always been my strong point. I believe that your impression of the person in front of you almost always corresponds to his real essence. I corresponded at length with Dr. Un Yong Kim, but it wasn’t until after he had left his position at GAISF, 13 years later, that WAKO received the organization’s recognition. Ironically, it happened on April 7, 2006 in Seoul, Dr. Kim’s hometown.
On a whim, I wanted to meet the man who was able to keep us out of the world sports organization that mattered most to us for such a long time.
In the meantime, the man had suffered one of the most sensational nosedives of his life. After losing his bid for the IOC presidency to Belgium’s Jacques Rogge after Juan Antonio Samaranch retired, at 74 years of age Un Yong Kim felt the shame of being suspected of corruption and misappropriation of WTF funds. Then, one of his sons was jailed in Bulgaria (don’t ask me what he was doing in that country!) because he had evidently illegally received a Green Card for the United States in a short time, while it usually takes ten years to get. All foreigners dream of having a U.S. Green Card because it allows you to eventually become a U.S. citizen.
Embittered by these events which struck his family (although he has always claimed to be uninvolved and innocent), Un Yong Kim immediately submitted his resignation as vice-president of the IOC and president of the WTF, quite possibly to avoid the further disgrace of expulsion, as stated in the rules of the Ethics Commission of the IOC itself.
It cannot have been easy for Dr. Kim to pass, all of a sudden, from a leading role in sports in the world and in his home country, to that of tainted goods. When you fall into disgrace, especially that type of disgrace, everyone avoids you like the plague. Therefore, I can imagine the hell he went through.
Nevertheless, Dr. Kim recovered little by little, and the man in front of me is far from being a loser. Quite elegant in his behavior, at 77 years of age he still has a full head of hair, which I envy a bit. He speaks English fluently and has bags under his eyes which make them appear asymmetrical, and it’s more noticeable when he removes his glasses. I had lunch with him, together with two of his secretaries who remained in religious silence as they took notes as we conversed about how Taekwondo gained entrance to the 1988 Seoul Olympics. He said, “ I invented modern Taekwondo, which was nothing but the Japanese Karate that we had learned, but it was thanks to Samaranch that we got it into the Olympic Games. ” He also talked about the IOC and the profound changes at every level of the organization, about its countless top-level personnel, all of whom he knows personally (including Primo Nebiolo, Franco Carraro and Mario Pescante, who is now an IOC vice-president) and about GAISF, which he says, “ has unfortunately been ruined by its new president ” (Hien Verbruggen) and obviously about WAKO, its kickboxing and its future.
Un Yong Kim is attentive, talkative and forthcoming with advice. “ You should do this and that &rdash; he tells me &rdash; contact this and that organization, and if you need help let me know. Inform people about you, write, be active, travel throughout the world (I couldn’t do more than I already am, I thought) give visibility to your sport, to your federation, let people see that you exist. It was a flood of good advice. Obviously, I nodded and thanked him constantly. I thought I would be facing an arrogant person, given his past position, but instead I was meeting a mentally lively, lucid, friendly and easygoing man. Just think, since he resigned as president of the WTF, Taekwondo has fallen on hard times. It has lost members and it even lost credibility after a Cuban athlete, during the most recent Olympics, launched a kick to the face of the referee who had declared him the loser of his match. If things like this continue, the organization risks being thrown out of the Olympic Games in the future. I glanced at a few blogs and websites before writing this article, and I came to realize that requests for his return to leadership of the WTF are gaining overwhelming momentum. They conducted a poll among all WTF member countries about who they would like to see leading the World Federation. Despite the past tribulations, Un Yong Kim received the highest percentage of preferences. 45% of those voting (from a group of 8 candidates) would like him back at the helm of the WTF, which reached its apex of power under his guidance. Only time will tell, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see his resounding return.
Before leaving to give a lecture at the University of Seoul, he gave me a copy of his book, “ The Greatest Olympics ” (referring to the 1988 games in Seoul, of course), and after a few obligatory photos, a promise that we would meet again. Together with his assistants, he left and my head remained in turmoil for a few moments.
Little more than an hour later I found myself in the modern headquarters of the Korean Olympic Committee for a meeting with its President, Y.S. Park. After the usual introductions and formalities, I dove into my presentation of WAKO, its development, its potential and its various activities. Mr. Park, who also speaks English fluently, listened to my explanations carefully and at the end, after I presented our Korean associates, he promised a “ fast track ” for recognition of WAKO Korea by the Olympic Committee.
We plunged back into the traffic of Seoul, which at rush hour seems worse than the major boulevards of Paris. Two hours later we were having dinner at the recently constructed Lotte World Hotel, whose restaurant has an excellent view of the city. In this setting I met the previous President of the Korean Olympic Committee, Yun Tak Lee, Ph.D. He too is an elegant, elderly gentleman to whom I could only repeat what I had already said to Kim and Park. The three men clearly know each other very well and they often discuss countless topics among themselves. Certainly, I hope that making a favorable impression on them will help us gain future recognition for our local organization which, given its geographic position, can become a strategic country for the future development of WAKO in Japan and China.
After the three meetings I was literally exhausted, considering the 16 hours of travel time the previous day and the three hours spent sitting with my legs crossed in a traditional Korean restaurant with several officials of Korean WAKO the night of my arrival. But it didn’t end here: after a hasty dinner it was back into traffic to go to the train station where a high-speed train was waiting to take us to Busan, the site of WAKO’s headquarters in Korea. We made the departure with only two minutes to spare. We arrived in Busan late at night and despite the 7-hour time difference and a bed as hard as a stone slab, I managed to sleep soundly.
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