April 29, 2016 - French taekwondo is already on the sport’s cutting edge, with four athletes heading to the Rio Olympics in 2016. Now, the Federation Francaise de Taekwondo ET Disciplines Associees is looking to the future and planning bold moves to take taekwondo in the nation to the next level.
The initiatives are the responsibility of the new federation president, Denis Odjo. Odjo, born in Paris but a resident of Grenoble, he became president of the Federation Francaise de Taekwondo ET Disciplines Associees on July 4, 2015, with confirmation of his position coming in January 2016. (Though Odjo’s position is a four-year one, he will face re-election after the 2016 Olympics - as per law for all French International Federations.)
A seventh dan black belt and international referee, seeks to make marketing changes and grading changes, but will also have to oversee a massive, and politically tricky, organizational change that comes from the very top.
But first things first – and the first thing is Rio.
“I have to do all I can to make our athletes ready for the Olympic Games, we need to take care of them specially,” he said. “We have a special program for them to go to some countries, and I have a special Olympic team and budget.” Any medal predictions? “I want the maximum - but especially gold!” he said. “We have never had any gold since Sydney, we have won medals each time - but no gold. This time, I want gold!”
In the wake of the Olympics, he hopes for a visibility bonanza. ”In French taekwondo, we have almost 55,000 people and we hope for more!” he said. But to leverage the Olympic bonanza, he believes taekwondo has to think beyond elite-level sport. “I want diversity – for the public, for the family, for the handicapped, to bring taekwondo to them,” he said.
Odjo has a range of tactical ideas that can be implemented at the grass-roots level. “Say you have a club and you have parents who take their kids to the club - why not have a practice for the parents?” he asked. “Then the parents don’t need to wait: We have to animate them! We can make ‘taekwondo dance,’ we can make ‘taiji taekwondo ‘– this all exists in taekwondo.”
Beyond the grass roots, the federation itself needs to be reorganized in line with a national initiative to administratively reshuffle all regions in the nation. “Now we have 26 regions and they will become 13 regions; this is the government system, and we have to adopt the same system,” Odjo said. “Some presidents will be canceled and some presidents will have bigger regions – this is not easy politically!”
There will be a lot of talks and a lot of compromises. “We will have to deal, to explain, to make people happy,” he continued. “Some regions have two presidents, so maybe one can be a vice president: in France presidents are not professional.”
Another task relates to the Kukkiwon and taekwondo grades. In France, the national government oversees diplomas and grades in all martial arts – judo, karate, etc - as well as taekwondo.
“In France you have a promotional test with the government - then you have the equivalency with the Kukkiwon,” he said. “if you have a first dan, you cannot be a second dan six months later: In France is it not possible.”
In the future, he seeks exclusivity. “I want to be the only federation in France with official Kukkiwon recognition,” he said. “I think it is good for every country to have this.” This would also obviate the problem of fake Kukkiwon certification and would help centralize administration. “I hope other federations will do the same thing,” he added. “It is important to have the same progression in each country.”