This article describes the split that occurred in the ITF circa 2001-2003. For context, it’s helpful to understand the content found in the following wiki articles first:
The reader should also note that different sources disagree somewhat on the exact sequence of events leading up to and resulting in the split.
The International Taekwon-do Federation (ITF) was the world’s first international taekwondo association. The ITF was established on March 22, 1966 by South Korean Army General Choi Hong Hi. Upon its founding, the ITF counted the following countries among its members: Vietnam, West Germany, Malaysia, Turkey, Italy, United Arab Republic, Taiwan, and United States. Choi Hong Hi continued to serve as president of the ITF until his death in June 2002.
In 1972 Choi Hong Hi relocated the ITF headquarters from Seoul, South Korea to Toronto, Canada. In 1985 Choi relocated the ITF headquarters from Toronto to Vienna, Austria.
By the end of the 20th Century, the ITF had established a process – described in the ITF constitution -- wherein a new president of the ITF was elected every 6 years. The president was elected by a congress of senior grandmasters from ITF member nations. The congress served as the ITF governing body, and the constitution as its guiding document. At this time, the bulk of funding to cover the cost of ITF administration came from North Korea.
2001 through May 2002 Edit
For over three decades, since its founding in 1966, Choi Hong Hi had always served as president of the ITF. By the turn of the century though, Choi Hong Hi was in his early 80s and it was understood that a successor needed to be identified. Among the logical candidates was Choi’s son, Choi Jung Hwa.
In 2001, the ITF congress elected Choi Jung Hwa as the new president of the ITF, but with the stipulation that he would not take office until 2003, and that in the interim his father would serve as president for another two years. The consensus at the time was that the ITF constitution permitted such an arrangement.
Shortly after this 2001 election, Choi Jung Hwa told the North Korean representatives within the ITF that while North Korea was of course welcome to continue to be a member nation of ITF, the fact that North Korea was the primary financial sponsor of the ITF would not grant North Korea any special influence within the ITF – North Korea would have the same vote as any other member nation.
North Korea was frustrated that – despite being the primary sponsor of the ITF – North Korea was not being given (in their eyes) a commensurate level of influence with the ITF. Arguably, their frustration was understandable. North Korea turned to Choi Hong Hi with their concerns.
In response to North Korean pressure, Choi Hong Hi agreed that his son Choi Jung Hwa should not become ITF president. Choi Hong Hi convened an “emergency congress” to address this question. Of course, as nominal president, Choi Jung Hwa should have been able to attend this congress, and in fact he attempted to do so, but he was denied entry to the meeting. According to some sources, Choi Jung Hwa was told at the door that this was not an “emergency meeting of the congress” at all – but rather a private meeting called by his father, to which Choi Jung Hwa was not invited.
Of course the purpose of the meeting was to remove Choi Jung Hwa as nominal president of the ITF. The “emergency congress” so voted, and as far as Choi Hong Hi and this congress was concerned, Choi Jung Hwa was no longer to be the upcoming president of the ITF.
Some members (including many senior grandmasters) of the ITF saw things differently however. They claimed that by labeling the meeting as a “private meeting” rather than a “congress”, and that by denying entry to some members (including Choi Jung Hwa), any decisions made at the meeting were not legally binding as per the constitution of the ITF.
Choi Jung Hwa took this same position; since he (as president of the ITF) was denied access to the “emergency congress”, he viewed its decision to remove him as non-binding. He continued to consider himself to be the ITF president, and he relocated the ITF headquarters back to Canada. Many ITF grandmasters continued to support him and follow him as their president.
Not surprisingly, this maneuvering also caused a personal split between Choi Hong Hi and his son.
Choi Hong Hi Memorial Service in North Korea Edit
In June 2002 Choi Hong Hi traveled to North Korea. Many sources claim that as he was in the airport preparing to leave for North Korea, Choi reconciled with his son. (North Korean sources in particular dispute this claim.)
While in North Korea, Choi Hong Hi passed away from cancer on June 15. In recognition of his position as the founder of ITF taekwondo, North Korea held a 100 day memorial service to honor Choi. Grandmasters from around the world were invited to attend the memorial service.
Concurrent with the memorial service, North Korea convened its own “congress” to select a new ITF president. They nominated Chang Ung, a North Korean government official. North Korea introduced this official to the assembled audience of grandmasters during the memorial service. When the audience applauded the newly introduced official, North Korea declared the applause to be an election, and declared Chang Ung to be the new ITF president.
Three ITFs Edit
Of course upon returning home from North Korea in 2002, many grandmasters understandably viewed the North Korean “election” to be non-binding. Lacking any clear president, they resorted to the guidance of the ITF constitution, which said that the ITF vice president (Russell MacLellan, a member of the Candian parliament) would serve as interim president until a new president could be elected. This election finally took place in 2003 at the next ITF World Championship, at which time Trần Triệu Quân was elected ITF president.
At this point, grandmasters around the world had to decide who they would follow, since there were now three people who claimed to be the ITF president:
- Choi Jung Hwa, General Choi’s son, headquartered in Toronto, Canada. (Choi continues as president of this ITF today.)
- Chang Ung, the North Korean candidate, headquartered in Vienna, Austria. (Chang Ung eventually retired and was replaced with Ri Yong Son).
- Trần Triệu Quân, the person elected at the 2003 ITF World Championship. (Tran was later killed in an earthquake in Haiti and was replaced with Pablo Trajtenberg.)
Unfortunately, there was no single “clear” right answer. Various grandmasters opted to follow each of these men, and the result was three different organizations making credible claims to be the “real” ITF.
In 2003 when Trần Triệu Quân was elected by the "remaining" ITF organization, that ITF entered into a lawsuit with the Chang Ung ITF regarding the ownership of the ITF headquarters building in Vienna, Austria. Austrian courts ruled in favor of the Chang Ung ITF; in response the Trần Triệu Quân ITF relocated its headquarters to Spain, where it resides now.
A Fourth ITF Edit
As with other federations, the three main ITFs have governing bodies in each of their member nations. Until 2014 (?) the Choi Jung Hwa ITF had a governing body in Korea led by Oh Chang Jin. This governing body split from the Choi Jung Hwa ITF to form a new ITF that bills itself as "ITF HQ Korea". This ITF is headquartered in Seoul. It is smaller and more recent than the other ITFs. See: http://itfofficial.org