Taekwondo hoping to take centre stage in Manchester’s month of sport
More than 250 of the world’s best taekwondo athletes will descend on Manchester, in the north west of England, in December for a new event aimed at building on the sport’s success at the London 2012 Olympic Games.
The World Taekwondo Federation, the sport’s governing body, first announced plans late last year for an annual ‘world series’ of Grand Prix events and a final in a bid to create more high-standard competitions for its athletes.
The first-ever World Taekwondo Grand Prix will take place at Manchester Central from December 13 to 15, with responsibility for the organising of the inaugural event firmly in the hands of GB Taekwondo. Steve Flynn, operations director at GB Taekwondo, said: “This is a new event that we have developed with the WTF over the last 12 months. They [the WTF] recognised the need for a new event, a new series to build upon the success of London 2012. They recognised nobody delivers taekwondo events like the UK does.
“We are a strong reliable partner for event delivery. If we can put on a great show in Manchester, we can then use our experience to help other cities next year.
“We want what is good for the sport and for the athletes. Wherever this event ends up going, to the Far East, Middle East or Americas, we want it to be really strong and we can help shape that.”
The WTF’s tentative plan is for two Grand Prix events and a final to be staged in 2014 in cities around the world, with as many as three Grands Prix and a final in 2015. In an Olympics year, there would be just one Grand Prix and a final event.
Each Grand Prix will involve the top 35 ranked athletes in each of the four Olympic taekwondo weight categories for both men and women.
The Grand Prix Final will take the top eight-ranked athletes from each respective weight category who will be seeded based on their ranking.
Tickets for December’s inaugural event went on sale on September 2 through the event’s official ticket retailer Ticketmaster, and GB Taekwondo said it is confident of a sell-out for all five sessions across the three competition days at the 2,500-capacity Manchester Central.
GB Taekwondo is working closely with Manchester City Council’s in-house event management team on the organisation of the Grand Prix, and has hired communications agency Rule 5 and sponsorship agency Slingshot to respectively handle event promotion and securing commercial partners.
Flynn explained: “A lot of the emphasis with Rule 5 is on digital marketing, social media and video content. We are lucky to get a lot of access to our athletes so it makes promotion easier. Taekwondo is increasingly appealing to the youth, so social media is an obvious interest to us.
“The WTF is ambitious to make this is a successful global event, but we are equally ambitious at a local level. Commercially, the Grand Prix initiative is a really attractive proposition, not just from a broadcast perspective, but for sponsors also. This is a new, global event and a chance to get involved from the outset.”
For the WTF, the Grand Prix is an opportunity for taekwondo athletes to compete at the highest level on a more regular basis in between the biennial World Championships and Olympic Games.
When the WTF Grand Prix initiative was launched, Jean-Marie Ayer, secretary general of the WTF, said: “You had the feeling [at the London Olympics] that the athletes were the centre of the show. We want to reproduce this in other events. It’s about creating a better show, a better experience for the athletes. We have to move on with added events, and a better chance for our top athletes to perform between Olympic Games and World Championships.
“We want to increase the quality of the athletes’ performances, and get better TV exposure. The objective is to take taekwondo one step higher in terms of exposure in media.”
The WTF Grand Prix forms part of national sports funding and administration body UK Sport’s £27-million ($42.1-million) National Lottery-funded Gold Event Series, which aims to bring 70 major championships to the UK to build a strong sporting legacy from the London Olympics.
Esther Britten, head of events, UK Sport, said: “UK Sport’s investment into this brand new World Series event, through our National Lottery funded Gold Event Series, demonstrates our commitment to building an outstanding programme of major international sporting events for the UK following the incredible success of London 2012.
“The strong partnership which has developed between GB Taekwondo, the World Taekwondo Federation and UK Sport is testament to the huge success of the sport at the London 2012 Olympics which catapulted athletes such as Jade Jones and Lutalo Muhammad into the limelight.”
Jones won gold in the women’s 57 kg category and Muhammed won bronze in the men’s -80 kg class for Team GB at London 2012.
The Grand Prix is one of a number of UK Sport Gold Event Series events being hosted in Manchester in November, with the Men’s World Squash Championship, UCI Track Cycling World Cup and the Rugby League World Cup final all on the agenda.
Flynn said that with “so much sporting activity in the city at the time, there will be plenty of cross-promotional activity.”
He added: “We have a great relationship with the two football clubs within the city [Manchester United and Manchester City], so we’ll be looking to do some [promotional] stuff with them too. It helps us that this is such a sporting city.”