Yavor Tasev hails record number of athletes at European Taekwon-Do Championships. RDP / ITG

All Europe Taekwon-do Federation (AETF) Secretary General Yavor Tasev spoke exclusively to Inside The Games at the European Taekwon-Do Championships in Lublin, Poland, which featured pre-juniors for the first time.

"I am very proud of the record number of athletes present in Lublin," said Tasev at the start of the interview in the Medical University of Lublin. "It is a great success for our federation to have almost 840 competitors from 32 countries from all over Europe. For the first time at a European tournament, the Pre-Junior category was introduced in accordance with the ITF guidelines, which created the category for 12-14 year olds. This contributed to the resounding success in terms of the number of participants."

The Bulgarian added, "The participation of 32 federations is also remarkable, the same number of delegates we had at the Congress on Friday. It's not easy for all countries to take part; many countries have limited or no budgets, lack government support and find it practically impossible to send representatives to a European Championship, as it involves almost a week's accommodation, meals and travel.

"We do not have the resources to financially support smaller federations without government support, although we do have the idea of sending coaches from neighbouring countries to raise their level and reduce the skills gap over time. We have supported Ukraine financially to enable their participation as the conflict there presents unique circumstances, but we cannot offer the same support to everyone."

Panoramic view of the rings and warm-up area where around 840 athletes competed in Lublin. RDP / ITG
Panoramic view of the rings and warm-up area where around 840 athletes competed in Lublin. RDP / ITG

Tasev, who is also secretary general of the Bulgarian Taekwon-Do Federation, continued, "Since our martial art is not part of the Olympic family, we do not receive general government support, which affects the representation of athletes in tournaments. Nevertheless, we hope to be able to participate in the future, as well as the new federations that will join the AETF.

"Portugal is in the process of reintegration, as well as Cyprus, which participated in the tournaments but had some administrative things to do, and Albania, which asked to join our federation, and this issue will certainly be addressed at next year's congress. We will have 40 members, a total success for our management."

The AETF's aim is to increase participation in future tournaments, such as the one to be held in Sarajevo next year. "We are making a concerted effort to have more participants in future championships, and if the AETF members want it, we will have the three categories in European competitions," insisted Tasev.

Yavor Tasev, speaking exclusively to Inside The Games at the Medical University of Lublin. RDP / ITG
Yavor Tasev, speaking exclusively to Inside The Games at the Medical University of Lublin. RDP / ITG

Commenting on next year's competition in Sarajevo and the reasons behind its selection, he highlighted the success of the capital of Bosnia and Herzegovina in organising the 2019 European Championships, which is also likely to be the venue for the congress.

He affirmed, "We will probably have no less than 900 and maybe even 1,000 participants, which is a significant growth compared to the 650 or so who participated then.

However, none of these changes will be easy or immediate. Much will have to change to adapt the teaching of martial arts in European federations, especially the smaller ones that do not have as many black belts at a young age, as it is a prerequisite to be at least a black belt to participate.

Asked if it was easy to change the rules and allow 12-14 year olds to compete at such a high level, Tasev admitted that some people had doubts surrounding the benefits of having young athletes competing for European titles. He conceded that European federations would have to adapt, especially the smaller ones lacking youngsters with black belts which are prerequisites for entering the event.

Tasev said: "It is very difficult to have black belts at the age of 12 or 13; federations will have to adapt to this and work on raising the level from the beginning. We run the risk of young people not realising what it means to be a black belt, but we know that giving them the opportunity to compete in pre-junior championships will motivate them to keep training and also give them the chance to meet their idols in the ring and learn from them.

"The most important thing is to give the members opportunities. That's what we're trying to do together. The more opportunities there are, the better the results will be in the future."