“All in all, it is a great sport.”
IOC Vice-President Ser Miang Ng
As IOC Vice-President, Ser Miang Ng is one of the most important leaders of the international sports world. It is his second term as IOC Vice-President which is part of an outstanding career in the IOC: He became a member in 1998, a member of the executive board between 2005 and 2009, 2016 to 2020 and IOC Vice President between 2009 to 2013 and now serving his second term since 2020. He has served in several IOC Commissions and is now the Chair of the IOC Finance Commission and IOC Human Resource Committee. He was also Vice-President of the National Olympic Council of his home country Singapore and is a successful and versatile businessman and diplomat, to name just a few of his positions, distinctions, and activities. In 2018, Ser Miang Ng was appointed Honorary Chairman of Kukkiwon. Considering his other duties, those who think that he has little space left for Taekwondo, are proven wrong very soon. When talking about the Korean national sport the IOC Vice-President proves that he is passionate, positive, and is remarkably well-informed. We had the chance to talk to him via Zoom at his home in Singapore.
TA: Mr. Vice-President, you are well known in the Taekwondo Community. In 2018 you were appointed Honorary Chairman of Kukkiwon. Why did you accept this position despite being incredibly busy with your other duties?
Ser Miang Ng: That is an interesting question (laughs). To answer, I begin with what I know of Taekwondo: It is a great sport that can be practiced and enjoyed by almost every one of all ages. It is an Olympic sport, which means that top talents can compete at the highest level. It is a martial art that has been transformed in a systematic way, so that people can compete in it as a sport. Other than being a sport for competitions, for health or for fitness, it is also strong in its values, like discipline and respect. You can see these values when the sport is practiced and in the organization itself. All in all, it is a great sport, which I enjoy watching and enjoy learning more about.
I first came to know Taekwondo when I was at high school and was practicing at a very junior level. It was when I got to know Dr. Un-Yong Kim, Dr. Chungwon Choue, Chairman Sung-Chon Hong and my good friend Milan Kwee, that I learned more about this sport and was going to the heart of Taekwondo.
So, I was very honoured and felt privileged that I was asked to be an honorary chair of Kukkiwon by Sung-Chon Hong, who was the chairman of Kukkiwon at that time. This year I was asked by the current chairman, Mr. Kabkil Jeon, to continue and I had no hesitation to do so, despite my other activities, because I believe in the sport and I hope that I can contribute to further its promotion.
TA: You already mentioned Taekwondo as an Olympic sport. You personally have a long history in the IOC, and you are an IOC Vice-President now. In your opinion: What are the strengths of Taekwondo as an Olympic sport?
Ser Miang Ng: Taekwondo is a great Olympic sport because it is exciting to watch. The sport has been evolving since Dr. Un-Yong Kim managed to persuade the IOC to put Taekwondo in the Olympic program in Sydney 2000 and since Dr. Chungwon Choue took over as president in 2004.
Dr. Choue is a man of great foresight remarkable diplomatic skill and a strong leader. He dived straight into reforming the sport and the organisation, so that Taekwondo can be truly entrenched as an Olympic Sport. He went about making sure that it was fully international and that the sport itself has good governance. Now World Taekwondo is one of the top-ranked international federations in the Olympic movement in terms of governance.
So, the strength of Taekwondo is not only in the sport itself but also in the various social and humanitarian initiatives it undertook. Dr. Choue is committed to gender equality and to expanding the sport to different parts of the world. One example is that World Taekwondo is the first international federation to allow woman athletes to wear a hijab. As at result in London 2012, in Rio 2016 and at numerous Taekwondo championships, Muslim and Arab women have shone and won medals.
Among the most important things for an Olympic sport are fairness and transparency, so that the athletes know it is a clean sport and they win fairly and openly. World Taekwondo introduced electronic protectors, instant video replay as well as strict referee training and selection, and are compliant with the World Anti-doping Agency Code. World Taekwondo developed into a model international federation.
During the World Championships in Manchester, I had the chance to meet some of the Para-Taekwondo athletes and it is amazing how this sport is practiced by all, able bodied and athletes with disabilities. I think this is also a charm and strength of the sport.
Furthermore, I think Dr. Choue made sure that the sport can be embraced even by those in disadvantaged positions like refugees. World Taekwondo is very well-known because of its contribution to peace and harmony and its support of refugees. For this outstanding work, Dr. Choue himself was appointed by the IOC to the Olympic Refuge Foundation.
All these elements, the excitement and attractiveness of the sport itself, the way it is governed, the striving for inclusiveness and equality, making sure that no athletes are disadvantaged because of different beliefs, make Taekwondo very exciting and well established as an Olympic sport. We must pay a lot of tribute to Dr. Choue for Taekwondo’s success.
TA: Until now only Taekwondo sparring is an Olympic discipline. But many poomsae players dream about being a part of the Olympic Games. In your opinion: Is there a chance, that poomsae can be an Olympic discipline?
Ser Miang Ng: Poomsae itself is exciting. It is interesting to see the strength and the grace of movement, but you also know that a lot or energy and control go into this. But it is also a sort of event that requires very objective judgement of performance.
As poomsae continues to develop and gain more popularity – I can see that it is highly popular in Singapore – I can understand the passion and desire of these athletes to compete at the highest level, the Olympic Games.
I believe that there will be continued development. World Taekwondo will try to improve the Olympic readiness of Poomsae further. For the Olympic Poomsae must continue to further establish in terms of fairness and make it easy for people who are watching to understand what is happening, why one player is better than the other one and for the athletes themselves to accept the results. So, I think there is a potential for Olympic inclusion.
But we also know that different new sports are trying to get in and even existing Olympic sports try to be innovative and relevant to the time and to the preferences and expectation of the people who are watching the Olympic Games. I think there will be a big competition, but I hope that Poomsae can make it.
TA: You were the driving force behind the establishment of the Youth Olympic Games. Why are the values of the Olympics important especially for young people?
Ser Miang Ng: Singapore was very honoured to be chosen as the city to host the inaugural Youth Olympic Games. It was a new concept, bringing sports together as well as realizing the culture-education aspect of it, where young athletes after their competitions come together to learn, to share and to work together in different activities. I think the YOG created a platform for the youth of the world to come together to compete, to learn, to play and to build friendships and bring the world closer. This alone offers significant values. We have created the YOG by working together with our youth to ensure that it was games for the youth by the youth. Together with our youth we blazed the trail.
We were also making sure that the athletes of the world and the youth of Singapore fully embraced the Olympic values of excellence, friendship, and respect. These are truly universal values which they will learn, they will accept, and they will practice and keep this for the rest of their life.
I think these are the important elements of having the Youth Olympic Games
TA: You personally visited several important Taekwondo events, like the World Championships in Manchester in 2019. Thinking back: What impressed you most or which Taekwondo experience do you remember best?
Ser Miang Ng: The Olympic Games are exciting with so many sports and so many events at the same times. But Taekwondo is always one of my must-watch events.
In comparison the World Championships bring different colours and elements; they are more relaxed. They are high-level competitions, but the environment is not as pressurizing – I do not want to say the Olympic Games are pressurizing but there is always that element.
Manchester is a good example: there was a lot of interaction even between officials, there were many occasions to meet up, to catch up and to meet new friends. That is the sort of thing that is interesting.
At Manchester there was also a demonstration of a Taekwondo Esports prototype. I credit Dr. Choue again for his foresight in knowing that there are such technologies available and such possibilities could engage the youth, as the world will change. So, this was another element which was interesting.
And obviously Manchester is always a great city.
TA: You were close to the man who made Taekwondo an Olympic sport: Dr. Un-Yong Kim. Looking back, how would you describe Dr. Kim’s contribution to the development of Taekwondo?
Ser Miang Ng: Most importantly, he was the founder of both Kukkiwon and World Taekwondo and brought Taekwondo into the Olympic Games. These are important initiatives that established Taekwondo as it is today. Putting Taekwondo into a form that is attractive to young people around the world, make them to enjoy the sport and to be deeply rooted in the values like respect, discipline, and excellence. These are truly his great contribution. Dr. Kim is the one who brought the gift of Taekwondo to the world and turned it from a Korean sport into an international sport, enjoyed by may be 100 million people around the world now. He was a man of great vision, great passion, and commitment.
Even during his old age, he continued to work for the sport. He formed the Kim Un-Yong Sports Committee so that he was able to continue his contribution to Taekwondo. When he founded this on November 4th, 2016 his idea was to have a structure that he could continue his contribution and legacy. One of the big initiatives that he wanted to have was to start the Kim Un Yong Cup to bring athletes from all over the world to compete at the tournament that would bear his name, so that he could continuously support the youth.
Unfortunately, he passed away while he was working hard to prepare for the launch of the inaugural championships.
But those of us who are his friends and who believe in his dream came together to help support his sports committee. We launched the inaugural championship in his memory, and it was very successful not just as the usual competition, but it was also an occasion of the athletes of the world and the officials to remember his contributions to Taekwondo.
I hope that Kim Un-Yong Sports Committee will continue to be driven by his children who are ready to step forward after a period of mourning of his passing. So, when Helen Kim, his daughter, spoke to me that the family was ready to continue Dr. Kim’s work , I was happy to hand this enormous task back to the them , as I was at that time chairman of the Committee on a temporary basis.
So, I hope that Kukkiwon, the Korea Taekwondo Association, the Korean sports ministry, World Taekwondo and the Taekwondo family around the world will continue to honour him and help build up the Kim Un-Yong Sports Committee under the leadership of his family and support the organisation of the Kim Un-Yong Cup.
I am very sure that this would have been his wish.
TA: You first met Dr. Kim in 1991, when you visited him to learn about Korea’s sporting success. What was the most valuable advice he gave you?
Ser Miang Ng: He was the chairman of the Korean Sports Council and the Korean Olympic Committee at that time, so when I became chairman of the Singapore Sports Council, I went to Seoul to visit him. He was open to share his knowledge, telling me that a small country like Singapore with a small population should concentrate on a number of sport where our tradition and our culture would enable our athletes to do well. So, I took his advice when I came back and we set up a sports excellence programme with funding from the government for 16 sports – eight core sports and eight merit sports.
I think it was an excellent advice. Our athletes were able to raise their levels from the South East Asian Games to the Asian Games to the Olympic Games. We had good success at regional and continental Games and in 2016, we had our first Olympic Gold in our history in swimming. I think this strategic plan was in a way a result of Dr. Kim’s mentorship and his great advice.
TA: Speaking about sport in Singapore we also must talk about another great man of Taekwondo, who is sadly missed by the community, the late Mr. Milan Kwee. You were close to Mr. Kwee. Could you share some memories with us?
Ser Miang Ng: My good friend Milan Kwee was president of the Singapore Taekwondo Federation from 2004 to 2018 and, together with the board members and the management, he continued to build the sport as a sport for all and especially for young people. He also managed to build a strong financial foundation for the Singapore Taekwondo Federation. It is one of the few national federations that has its own office place. The dojangs are doing well and they have good participation numbers. We hope that they will continue to do well under the new leadership.
Milan was also vice-president of the Singapore National Olympic Council. He has contributed a lot not just to Taekwondo but to sports development in Singapore and he helped to bring the different sports together.
There is a lot of interactions between the leadership of the different sports federations. This is true Milan. He set up his chat group. So, before we would know it, his chat group was all over the place. This may be something he learned from World Taekwondo.
TA: You also had good contact to the former president of the International Taekwon-Do Federation Professor Ung Chang. What comes to your mind, thinking of him?
Ser Miang Ng: Mr. Ung Chang is another dear friend of mine from North Korea. We have been close together in the IOC. I remember the last time I met him was during the PyeongChang Olympic Winter Games when we were at the athletes’ village and decided to have a quiet lunch together. But it turned out that our quiet lunch was captured by a photographer and the next day it was on the news. Ung Chang is a great sports leader who supported people doing Taekwondo and who represented North Korea very well. There was a lot of engagement between International Taekwon-Do Federation and World Taekwondo. The foundation for this was built by people like Chang Ung and Dr. Kim and it was continued by Dr. Choue and the new ITF leadership.
And I think now that Kukkiwon has a new chairman, Mr. Kabkil Jeon, and a new president, Mr. Dong-Sup Lee, they will also have a new vision on how to develop Kukkiwon and to see how it can provide support to the rest of the Taekwondo world. We will see another exciting time.
I was also privileged to be able to support Kukkiwon last year when they were working to lobby the Seoul metropolitan government to fund the reconstruction of its headquarters building in Seoul. This is a very meaningful and significant project. The building has been around since the 1970s and its reconstruction will reflect the development of Taekwondo at Kukkiwon and worldwide and create another legacy as well as a centre of focus. I hope they will be successful in persuading the Seoul metropolitan government to support that project.
TA: What are your expectations for the future role of Kukkiwon?
Ser Miang Ng: I think Kukkiwon has a specific role being in Seoul, being in Korea and being the first place of modern Taekwondo. It continues to support Taekwondo in terms of the grading of black belts but even more in terms of manifestation of spirit, culture, and values of Taekwondo.
I will not try to pre-empt what its new leadership will do. But I think that it is remarkable that Taekwondo has been structured with both an international federation and another supporting body which is based at the home country.
TA: The IOC recently announced the Olympic Virtual Series, and you personally take an interest in Esports. Why is it a good thing that Esports are a part of the Olympic movement?
Ser Miang Ng: In the Olympic Agenda 2020 + 5, the IOC recognizes the significance of Esports worldwide. Esports is popular among the youth and the IOC is all about engaging the youth. That is why the international federations should take charge of their own virtual sports whether in the physical form or in the Esports form. For federations, this will be a great chance because it will be a new way of introducing the youth to their sports. I think there is a lot of potential; with creativity and technology, federations will have another tool to engage the youth and even evolve another form of their sport.
TA: Could there be the danger that that Esports are a competition to the classical sports disciplines?
Ser Miang Ng: I would not think so. Especially this year, as the world is impacted severely by the pandemic, Esports continue to grow very strongly. We are talking about hundreds of millions or billions of businesses in Esports while the traditional sports continue to strive and to grow during this pandemic as well. There is a lot of scope for innovation, for entrepreneurship in Esports.
TA: The Tokyo Olympic Games will surely be different from all Olympic Games before. In the long run: How do you think the Pandemic will change the international sports community?
Ser Miang Ng: Today we saw the latest report from the Organising Committee of the Tokyo Olympic Games. The pandemic has caused a lot of disruptions to the competitions of the international federations, so there were many adjustments that have been made. But during this period, more than 340 world championships were held in which 41.000 athletes took part in a safe environment for the athletes, the host cities and the citizens. Sports are evolving in this new situation, and we hope that with more vaccination and more knowledge on how to deal with the virus, we will overcome this challenge. Medical and scientific advice and evidence show us that this pandemic is not going away very soon so every adjustment we make now will move our sport forward. So yes, there will be an impact from the pandemic and there will be adjustments as a result, but this is like everything in sport: We always overcome different challenges every time.
TA: Is there something you would like to add?
Ser Miang Ng: I just want to wish everybody the absolute best as we move forward, but most importantly to stay strong, stay well and stay safe.
TA: Thank you so much for this interview.