The decision follows IOC President Thomas Bach’s call for all Olympic International Federations to offer refugee athletes – many of whom do not have official nationalities – the chance to compete in Rio. In September 2015, the IOC announced an emergency fund of $2 million to be made available to National Olympic Committees (NOCs) for programs designed to support refugees.
The WTF fully supports the IOC’s initiative to use sport to bring hope to refugees and this has been reflected in the federation’s creation of the Taekwondo Humanitarian Foundation (THF).
As part of this effort, the WTF conducted an e-vote among its Council members to approve amending its Olympic Standing Procedure in order to grant refugee athletes the chance to enter the continental taekwondo qualification process for Rio.
Under this amendment, athletes such as Raheleh Asemani – a former national team member of Iran, now based in Belgium, and one of three potential refugee Olympic athletes identified by the IOC – will be able to enter the European Continental Qualification Tournament in Istanbul, Turkey in January under the WTF Flag.
“I would like to urge all Continental Unions and Member National Associations to be united in supporting this initiative. The WTF, in collaboration with the Continental Unions, would like to allow the refugee athletes to participate in the Continental Qualification Tournaments under the flag of the WTF. If qualified, he or she will be competing at the Rio 2016 Olympic Games under the flag of the IOC. The IOC committed to supporting the efforts of the WTF to allow participation of refugee athletes in the upcoming qualification tournaments,” said WTF President Chungwon Choue in his recent letter to the WTF Council members. “This will give hope and dreams to all refugee athletes around the world.”
Following the letter from President Choue, Athanasios Pragalos, President of the European Taekwondo Union (ETU), said, “As ETU president, I am very proud of the WTF’s proposal to enable refugee athletes to participate in the Olympic Games and Qualification Tournaments in line with the IOC’s initiative. This decision perfectly matches with the current movement of the WTF to empower refugees and displaced persons and give them hope during difficult times. In this respect, the ETU warmly welcomes refugee athletes to participate in the upcoming European Qualification Tournament under the flag of the WTF.”
The IOC’s program to support elite athlete refugees is aligned with the principles of the THF, which is in the final stages of being officially registered with the WTF Lausanne office under Swiss law. The THF will harness the power of taekwondo to teach refugees discipline, respect and understanding and offer them a way of keeping physically active. The THF has set up a pilot project in two Syrian refugee camps in Jordan and another pilot project will be launched in Nepal in January. It is expected to undertake full-scale operations in refugee and displaced persons’ camps around the world from early 2016.