Sports

Taekwondo-World body chief sets hopes for refugee medal in Paris

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A World Taekwondo official shows a video of Syrian refugee Wael Al Faraj watching a taekwondo match on TV from Jordan's Azraq refugee camp, at an Olympic venue in Chiba, Japan, July 26, 2021. REUTERS/Chang-Ran Kim

CHIBA, Japan, July 26 (Reuters) - An Iranian taekwondo athlete narrowly missed winning a historic first medal for the Refugee Olympic Team on Sunday but the head of the sport's governing body already has his sights set on a young Syrian refugee for the big stage in Paris 2024.

That honour belongs to 18-year-old Wael Al Faraj, who rapidly worked his way up to a respectable third-dan black belt since beginning to train in 2016 at the academy in Jordan's Azraq camp conceived by the head of World Taekwondo.

"I told him, 'You are the future hope so practise hard, prepare for the Paris Olympic Games'," Chungwon Choue, who heads both World Taekwondo (WT) and Taekwondo Humanitarian Foundation (THF), told Reuters in an interview, adding he had video-called Al Faraj from the Olympic venue two days ago.

"I am going to support him," Choue said, adding he had high hopes for a historic medal for Al Faraj.

Taekwondo's humanitarian arm was established in 2016 and now has academies set up in three refugee camps, in Jordan, Rwanda and Turkey, with student size ranging from 200 to 725. Rwanda's Kiziba camp will boast an athlete in taekwondo's Paralympic Games debut this year: Burundian refugee Parfait Hakizimana.

For Choue, the academies are not just an exercise in promotion and publicity for the Korean combat sport.

His father was the instigator of the United Nations' International Day of Peace established in 1981 and drilled into him the importance of contributing to society, he said.

"Since I was young, my father taught me about the importance of world peace," Choue told Reuters. Beyond being a combat sport, taekwondo teaches virtues such as respect, self-discipline and courage, he said.

"But I'd like to open our facilities in the camps to all the other international sports federations," Choue said.

"When you go there, it's very emotional, seeing children doing nothing after school. They really need those kinds of activities living in the compounds."

Al Faraj's Azraq camp is home to a 4,000-square-metre area allocated to THF by the Jordanian government and boasts 13 black belts among its practitioners.

The Refugee Olympic Team had three athletes competing in taekwondo this year.

Reporting by Chang-Ran Kim; Editing by Muralikumar Anantharaman

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