By Bruce Harris
CEO, USA Taekwondo
Let me begin by saying that I am a patriotic American and I make no effort to hide that fact. I begin with that statement because there was an occurrence at the 2014 PATU Championships, hosted in the USA in Portland, Oregon, that is a cause for discussion on my part.
The 2014 PATU Championships took place over two days in Portland, OR. The first day was cadets and junior competitors, and was not a part of the G-1 event. Sunday was the G-1 competition, the last of this calendar year. There were participants from 28 countries which is testimony to the appeal of having this event in the USA - it's not a put down of our friends in other countries in the region, it is just a fact that the USA tends to draw more participants, largely for its tourism value.
Taekwondo Federations seek to have international events in their country so that the athletes from that country will have the benefit of the support from the home crowd. It is expensive, and getting even more expensive, to be able to host international Taekwondo Championships in any country, and that includes the USA.
The 2014 PATU Open Championships were originally scheduled to take place in Mexico, but were switched to the USA when Mexico withdrew its support for this event, so, we are lucky to have had this event in the USA. This was a golden opportunity for our athletes to enjoy having the home crowd cheering and showing its support for our national athletes. This is highly evident in every other country that is able to host international Taekwondo events.
Imagine the disappointment in hearing our home crowd expressing vocal support for an athlete from another country who was competing against a USA athlete. It was not just any athlete from the USA. It was our most preeminent Taekwondo athlete, not just for the USA, but in the history of Taekwondo - Steven Lopez.
Steven Lopez is, arguably, the most highly decorated Taekwondo athlete in the competitive history of Taekwondo to date. During his match against the current number one ranked athlete in the -80kg division, Aaron Cook, instead of our home crowd taking the opportunity to show support by cheering for Steven Lopez, instead, there were undeserved boos for Steven. True enough, there were some in the crowd who cheered for Steven, but the majority seemed not to be in support of him.
I have no problem in admitting that Aaron is a charismatic and likeable athlete, and that it is easy to support him. I do enjoy watching Aaron fight, and I have been a supporter of his during his matches with athletes from other countries. But, not against our own Steven Lopez. Going back to my first statement, as a patriot I always want to see our countrymen doing well and succeeding.
I believe that this sentiment is shared by most of our Taekwondo family, but was not in evidence during this competition, and especially during this match. Steven has earned our support and he deserves better than to have the home crowd cheering against him in America. Steven Lopez has played a large role in bringing the sport of Taekwondo to where it is today. Without the accomplishments and recognition that Steven has rightly earned the sport of Taekwondo in the US would not be where it is today.
I understand that this is America, where everyone is free to do and act in just about any way they choose. However, it is my opinion that we, as a USA Taekwondo family of coaches, parents, athletes and club owners need to do a better job of supporting our USA Taekwondo athletes when they compete against international competitors in our own country. It is not disrespectful to give polite applause to our international guests, and to cheer madly for our USA athletes when the chance presents itself. That happens all the time in other countries around the world at Taekwondo events.
I do not presume to speak for Steven Lopez, but I believe that it could not have been a good feeling to hear our home crowd booing him and cheering for Aaron Cook. As we have all heard many sportscasters say that the home crowd often inspires our athletes to greater heights. Hopefully, we can all agree to better support our USA athletes, not just at home, but also abroad. Be courteous to athletes from other countries, but really cheer on our USA athletes.
There is an opportunity for our Taekwondo family in the USA to show their support at the upcoming 2015 U.S. Open Taekwondo Championships that will take place in Orlando, FL from January 20-25th. I am certain that all of our USA athletes will appreciate your support.