Ben Avison (BA): It has been said that cities are becoming less interested in hosting major multi-sports events than smaller championships. Do you think that’s true of your events? How keen do you think cities are on hosting your own events?
Jeongkang Seo (JS): Smarter cities carefully assess the return on investment and may find it not very attractive to host mega events which require huge investment if there is no matching benefit. Taekwondo is a relatively cost-effective sport which does not require any huge investment but is capable of bringing competitive values and leaving strong legacy, so we are finding more cities showing interests in hosting our events based on our measurable value proposition.
Shiny Fang (SF): In our case cities are quite keen – it’s all about the anticipation and expectation of the cities. Before they bid for competitions they want to know what would happen and what are the opportunities. We have many cities bidding for our competitions, but we try to divide different levels of competition. When we choose cities, the world championships go to bigger cities and smaller events go to some smaller cities which are more suitable hosts in terms of infrastructure and facilities.
BA: The World Taekwondo Championships this year is in Muju, the home of taekwondo. How important is it to take your sport to new regions as well?
JS: Hosting events is a very effective way of developing a sport in a country or a region. It creates new national heroes who inspire spectators and TV audiences to take up the sport. Five medals were taken by African nations at the Rio 2016 Games and taekwondo is now increasingly popular there. So, it is undeniable that it is stable to go to the region where taekwondo is already developed and popular, but equally it is critical to find the less-developed place for the purpose of sport development.
BA: People talk a lot about the importance of readiness for events – we hear examples of cities that are only just ready in time and in the worst case scenario it become apparent they are not going to be ready. How important is this for you and how does it impact your choice of host city?
SF: In our discussions, we always talk about the working relationship and how closely the city and federation can work together to host the event. Even though we are aspiring to the highest standards you still have to rely on local partnerships; sometimes they will wait until the last moment and they will say they are ready when actually they are still not ready. It’s a constant struggle but it’s not impossible to find solutions.
Good project planning is essential for anyone, including the IOC, the IFs and not only in sport but in industry. Therefore when we choose a working partner it’s important to examine how precise they can be and how confident you can be in your expectations of the plan together.
JS: If a city has clear objectives and has willingness to collaborate with the right holders as partner, I think it will be able to prepare events quickly and to a high standard. We are also providing the host cities with support program called STEP (Support taekwondo event program) to ensure the host cities clearly understand operational requirements for hosting our event in every stage in the lead up to actual organization. So, I would say that close collaboration and partnership are more important than readiness.
BA: You mentioned the importance of partnerships there – how important is the alignment between city and national governments?
SF: I think it’s super important. Especially when bigger sized competitions and the national federations have limited resources. It is a significant commitment from the federations, so they need to have the support of the local authority government or central government. It is very important. Our new bidding procedure enables us to award a competition to a city instead of a national federation – of course they will be involved in any case but mainly on the technical side. At the end of the day a competition is not only a competition, it’s an event, so you need effort and input from all sides.
JS: Strong and sustainable partnership among themselves will ensure smooth preparations and everlasting legacies. For example, the City of Manchester built such a strong relationship with the national taekwondo organization, matching their long-term strategies. The city helped build the national training center and the national federation is teaching self-respect and self-discipline to young kids in the city. Also partnering with UK sport, they presented three events in three years, a plan that perfectly matched our long term strategy as well. We are encouraging this know-how with other potential cities at our annual Partnership Workshop program.
BA: In an age where events are mainly experienced remotely via TV and digital, does it make a difference where an event is hosted?
SF: I would say yes, because you have a better atmosphere inside a competition than outside that can seriously affect the whole production. If you want to show the best images that sum up the drama and excitement of your competition, you have show how excited people are on site watching.
JS: These days, there are several different ways to consume sports, so it is of course important to produce high quality production and utilise social media to effectively deliver the footage to the audience at home but it is equally important to create great atmosphere onsite as it improves the experience for those watching from their homes. Spectators have a vital role to play in contributing to the success of the event, transmitting vivid impression of the sport from venue.
BA: Is it possible to evaluate all factors in a bidding procedure – for example the venues, broadcast infrastructure and local culture? How do you select your cities bearing all these things in mind?
JS: Hosting an event is a partnership between an IF and a city and it should be a collaborative process. Both parties have to benefit from the partnership and as an IF we must not be too prescriptive. We ask questions in the bid file where they need to answer: What’s the purpose of bidding? What’s the legacy you want to leave? What’s your capacity for producing all these requirements? By answering the questions the bidders already have in their mind if the event is suitable for them or not and at the same time we are able to evaluate the capacities and suitability of the cities who want to organize our events.
BA: Another approach might be to have a range of events that are suitable for different types of cities. In the case of the UIPM I know you have the Laser-Run that be held in different venues…
SF: Sure. In certain competitions you always have set criteria. Within those criteria you can always enlarge the number of spectators, so you can award the event based on the final bidders. The criteria are clear; you always have to have a basic host standard which you cannot compromise.
For IFs, to be very practical, we are looking for cities to have the ability to host the competition – that’s goal number one. Only when you have a place where you know things will happen according to your requirements are you safe. We are not in a bad situation for bidding cities but the commercial valuation of our sport is not simple. For sponsorship and partnerships it’s not easy for any sport.
CITY VIEW: What does a host city want from an IF?
Colin Edgar, director of strategic partnerships, Glasgow Life told the session: “What Glasgow wants with IFs is a true partnership, one where both the host city and the federation feel jointly responsible for delivering each other’s priorities.
“Sometimes the city feels responsible for delivering the federation’s priorities, because you had to make all these promises to bid. I think in the future, as cities need to much smarter about how they invest and spend their money, they are going to be looking for deep and true partnerships where the federation understands what the city wants and feels that they have a responsibility for delivering that.”