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11/30/2003 11:34pm,
Taekwondo Strikes Blow for Diplomacy
By Park Song-wu Staff Reporter

While strife in Iraq continues, in Seoul, a group of the country's athletes have been working hard at getting things back to normal in their profession. Eight Iraqi taekwondoists, who have been experiencing the martial art in its country of origin over the past 22 days, will leave South Korea on Seturday with hopes of bringing encouragement to their compatriots.

Before returning to Iraq, they will stop off in France, where two will test their newly-acquired skills at the Olympic qualification tournament in Paris from Dec. 6 to 8. ``I want to be a hero,'' Wisam Alawe, who will compete in the under-57kg class, told The Korea Times. ``I want to make history as an Iraqi.''

It will be their second international competition, following the Daegu Universiade in September this year, where three competed but were all knocked out in the first round. A total of 17 Iraqis, including seven instructors and two officials, have stayed here since Nov. 8 at the invitation of the World Taekwondo Federation (WTF), which is headquartered in Seoul.

Until Nov. 25, they had training sessions at Yong In University, located south of Seoul and well-known for its martial arts programs. They also visited the World Taekwondo Headquarters in Seoul and collected many taekwondo-related documents, which are expected to boost the development of the sport in Iraq.

``I believe their experience here and the collection of documents will help in reconstructing the infrastructure of taekwondo in Iraq,'' said Nam Sung-bok, who is helping efforts at getting Iraq's taekwondo program back on its feet.

``Taekwondo is the second most popular sport in Iraq, only behind football.'' The 57-year-old, who is also the president of the Pennsylvania State Taekwondo Association, said the sport was introduced to Iraq more than 20 years ago.

But 10 years of conflict and sanctions and the effects of the dictatorship of Saddam Hussein have made it necessary to start again virtually from scratch.

Nam said he had volunteered in July to work on the reorganization project. ``I can speak Arabic, which I picked up in Egypt while coaching taekwondo for around eight years,'' he explained. ``I like teaching taekwondo. I also taught in Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia and Malaysia.'' He said the WTF had invited the Iraqis in October, but it took time to get together the money for airline tickets and visas.

``It was a difficult process, but I am happy to see them saying that they are really satisfied,'' Nam said. ``One of them told me his life's dream has come true. In Iraq, they have to practice on bare ground because there are no mats in the gyms. Literally nothing.''

Knowing the situation in Iraq, the WTF did its best to provide them with all the necessary equipment during their stay. Everything went smoothly until they hit a snag on Tuesday, when they where scheduled to have a football match against a team from the Republic of Korea Army special forces.

``The military canceled the event,'' Nam said. ``I think too much media attention led high-ranking officers to rethink the idea.''

The WTF said in a recent statement that it will donate all the necessary equipment and expenses needed to revive taekwondo in Iraq.

http://times.hankooki.com/lpage/sports/200311/kt2003112817092811610.htm