By Yoo Jee-ho
SEOUL, Aug. 25 (Yonhap) -- A breakthrough agreement between two international bodies of taekwondo will allow North Korean athletes to compete in the martial art at the Summer Olympics, officials said on Monday.
The Seoul-based World Taekwondo Federation (WTF) and the North Korea-led International Taekwondo Federation (ITF) reached a memorandum last Thursday in Nanjing, China, during the Youth Olympic Games, the WTF announced on its website. Thomas Bach, president of the International Olympic Committee (IOC), witnessed the signing of the agreement between the WTF chief Choue Chung-won of South Korea and the ITF president Chang Ung of North Korea, the WTF added.
Currently, the WTF is the only global taekwondo body sanctioned by the IOC, thus only the athletes of countries recognized by the WTF are allowed to compete in the Olympics. The ITF, which is not recognized by the IOC, has been unable to compete in the Olympics. Its federation rules also differ from the WTF's.
Under the recent agreement, athletes registered to the WTF and ITF will be free to compete in each other's competitions under the rules of each organization. The two organizations have been in talks for such an agreement since last year. In September 2013, Choue had told reporters he expected to reach a deal with the ITF sometime during 2014.
"We are delighted to have signed this agreement with the ITF. We are always looking at ways to develop and evolve taekwondo for the benefit of athletes and fans and opening up our relationship with the ITF is a key way of doing this," Choue was quoted as saying on the WTF's website. "With this agreement, the WTF will do its upmost to ensure that every taekwondo athlete has the opportunity to compete at the Olympic Games."
The ITF's Chang said: "This is only the beginning of our cooperation and there will be more to achieve together."
Bach called the signing "a historic step for taekwondo."
"With common roots and a common history, the two federations belong to the same family and it is great to see such an accord," he said, according to the WTF's website. "It is in the best interests of the young athletes and lays a firm foundation for cooperation for the future."
The ITF was founded in South Korea in 1966, seven years before the WTF. Since the death of its founder, Choi Hong-hi, who had switched his political allegiance to North Korea, the ITF has split into three different organizations, each run by Chang, Choi's son Choi Jung-hwa, and Vietnamese-Canadian taekwondo master Tran Trieu Quan.
The WTF has viewed Chang's ITF as its counterpart since Chang is a member of the IOC.
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