(A guest post by Peter Bolz) – Everyone in Germany knows the old German proverb. „People who live in glass houses should not throw stones“. This wisdom people will always get to hear, who criticize in the strongest other misdemeanours but commit in the same or in a similar form. For many people this behavior is quite shabby form of double standards.
Obviously also the leadership of the European Taekwondo Union (ETU) has been infected with this „double standard“ virus two or three years ago – and don’t get rid of it any more. While the leadership of the ETU is sanctioning commited misdemeanours against valid rules and regulations allegedly again and again at her own member nations with draconian means, ETU president Sakis Pragalos seems to himself to make cordially too few thoughts on it, whether his own decisions stand in consistence with the prevailing set of rules, that is the ETU statutes and regulations.
No wonder that more and more members ask themselves if the ETU really still fights for her member nations just like this should be the case actually. Meanwhile, more and more members opinion is that the order in the ETU slowly but surely disappears completely. More and more members mean that now anyone can do in the ETU what he wants – at least when he is part of the orbit of the President. And all this – and that is dangerous because – obviously without any control. This means the democratic understanding has got rips.
Sad record holder
It is a very sad record, which has been set up by the ETU. Within just two years, „our“ European Association suspended four of its own national associations. Moreover, this European Association has assisted to one of its own members from the Executive Board in a shabby smear campaign, has appointed as ETU honorary president one in his own nation disgraced former national president, has laid the European Championship (U21) to a crisis area against the will of many nations, has seriously failed repeatedly against its own constitution and against the statutes of the WTF and – and this is probably the worst – kicked the rights of its national members underfoot because of pure self-interest.
How draconian the ETU is acting against its own members, is already evident from the fact that only one case is known worldwide, in which an association has also been suspended, except this four European suspensions. 2012 India was suspended by the World Taekwondo Federation (WTF), because there were differences with the Indian Olympic Association. You have to say again: the World Association has suspended the Indian federation and not the continental Association, not the Asian Taekwondo Union (ATU).
According to current knowledge, except the ETU not a single continental federation has issued a suspension. For this the European Union pleasing slammed four times! Already this fact shows with which sledgehammer method the ETU proceeds against their own nations. It is fair to ask the question whether the penalties were actually necessary only in the interests of Europe or whether – which however is said only behind closed doors – also personal interests played a role.
The fact that these suspended Nations were Sweden, Belgium, Germany and finally also Greece, is likely to be well known. But unknown to most people are the reasons that were necessary for these draconian sanctions from the perspective of the ETU-President – and ultimately this led to the athletes, clubs and officials so that participation in sport events only were still possible with special approvals.
A quick look at the alleged reasons for the suspensions is worthwhile. In the case of Sweden, the ETU noted after the swedish elections, conducted in May 2014 that the statutes of the Swedish Association were not consistent with the articles of WTF and ETU. Sweden is a member of the ETU since 1977 after all. Thereafter Sweden was repeatedly asked to amend its own constitution. Sweden stated in September 2014 that due to time, new statutes would be adopted in April, 2015. Thereafter Sweden was suspended in October 2014 by the ETU.
Then Belgium was suspended in November, 2014, namely also because of apparently coarse injuries of ETU and WTF statutes. Whether with this suspension it was really only about the Belgian statutes, it is doubted meanwhile stronger and stronger. The true backgrounds of this suspension are, at least for the base, in the dark. Belgium was in 1976 one of the founding members of the ETU. In other words, for 38 years, nobody cared about the statutes of the Belgian association!
In February 2016 Germany was suspended by ETU president Sakis Pragalos. The reason for the surprising suspension, Sakis Pragalos was referring to a letter of the then controversial German President Park Soo-Nam, who is to be added to the narrower circle of Sakis Pragalos. As it turned out, the letter based to an e-mail, in this Park Soo-Nam asked openly about a suspension of the German committee – that means his opponents, with whom he had a dispute in Court. In a nutshell, it acted – at least in this case – about an „ordered“ suspension! (see report)
Greece was then in turn in March 2016. As it could be taken from a letter from the ETU president Sakis Pragalos to the Greek Ministry of Sport, the only reason of this „with immediate effect“ pronounced suspension was actually that the ETU-coach license system was not recognized by the Greek Ministry of sports. Why the ETU-leadership uttered a suspension against all Greek athletes, coaches and officials in this case, is not quite understandable. It is thought that with this they wanted to force the Greek Ministry, to recognize the ETU-system around the Greek coach license – what the Ministry of course did refuse! (see report)
An European tragedy
It is quite astonishing how toughly the ETU throbs their own member nations to comply with the statutes. But when it comes to enforce its own interests, it seems to be less scruple in the ETU-administration to disregard the rules of the WTF Statutes as well as the guidelines and their own statutes. This was often the case when it was about lucrative sources of income.
Among the most recent examples in which this European tragedy was performed, belongs virtually everything related to the so-called WTF Presidents Cup. Many details that are related to the organization of this G2-tournament, it can actually only be described as dubious and therefore also give rise to wild speculation.
Usually, only the board members of the national associations are to be in line as a contact for the ETU-leadership, especially when there is about perform a scheduled championship in the territory of this nation. Everything else would be equal like an interference in national affairs. And something like this is not permitted in accordance with Article 16.1 no. 1 of the WTF Statutes. (see link)
To this day, nobody can really explain why ETU president Sakis Pragalos set in his mind, to necessarily align the WTF Presidents Cup together with the German national association in North Rhine-Westphalia (NWTU). In accordance with Article 17.6 of the Statute ETU only the national federations host Championships funded by the ETU – with the consent of the ETU. The State of North Rhine-Westphalia is mentioned in the ETU Statutes not once! (see link)
That also a bit of discomfort resonated, in addition to the general lack of understanding to this conduct contrary to the statutes, was also due to the fact because it was around the at this time acting NWTU-President and current ETU treasurer Antonio Barbarino, who was otherwise caught in the crossfire. It is likely to be well known, that Antonio Barbarino was voted out as president and Musa Cicek elected as new president of NWTU. Only after this it was found out that no contract existed between the ETU and NWTU respect to the hosting of the Presidents Cup.
Who was ultimately the negotiation partner of ETU, is not clear to this day. Allegedly, the Presidents Cup has been performed by an until this day officially unknown German club from the orbit of Antonio Barbarino and with the active support of Kenneth Schunken – the personal secretary of President Pragalos. One thing is just actually known that ETU treasurer Antonio Barbarino held the reins in his hands. And that creates a strong unease among many people. Because according to the statute the Treasurer is appointed by the ETU president. Already even to prevent rumors, somebody should have to worry for a minimum of transparency in this obscure hosting.
Of course, nothing is to be assumed here. But if the ETU president appoints a treasurer and then subsequently with this – the national association over – completely opaque and in an unusual manner aligns an international tournament, then one may not be surprised by emerging rumors.
In passing it should be mentioned here that in conjunction with the organization of this tournament a criminal complaint for fraud was filed.
Already in the preparations of the WTF Presidents Cup was for outsiders clear that a stark change of attitude has taken place in the personnel partly newly filled ETU leadership. While under the time of the former Secretary General Gerrit Eissink meticulously took care that all resolutions were carried out within the meaning of the applicable law, for outsiders the ETU has developed like a real madhouse, where rules apparently play no role in.
This was also evident at the WTF Presidents Cup. In order To attract as many participants as possible, the ETU leadership made the commitment that every medalist has automatically to be qualified for participation in the next European Championship, and indeed for the age and weight class in which he won the medal.
To withdraw the national federations their or decades existing law on the nomination of its competitors, its own order was created by the ETU. This consists of five articles „Bylaw WTF Presidents Cup“ (see link) was prescribed the national associations that they must not prevent the medalists of the WTF Presidents Cups to go at the European Championships at the start. In other words, the member nations will be forced to renounce its previous sole nomination rights and harmless to tolerate the interference in their national sovereignty. The by the ETU nominated athletes have to start at the European Championships as alleged members of the respective national squad – and not as ETU nominees!
The concept created specifically for the WTF Presidents Cup, and it specially adopted „Bylaw WTF Presidents Cup“ was presented to the Nations in a presentation by the ETU-treasurer Antonio Barbarino on 20 October 2015, at an ETU Council Meeting in Riga (Latvia). A vote on this Bylaw did not exist. (see link)
An association goes freaky
Once accepted by the nations without protest that the ETU conceded a say for international championships in the nomination of the competitors, they seem to lost obviously any inhibition at the European headquarters in Athens. In a subsequent period, the nomination rules were changed at short notice several times.
Shortly before the opening of the Presidents Cup it was suddenly told, that not any medalists would be qualified, but „only“ the gold medalist. More serious taken reasons why the nomination was changed so quickly, are not known. Likewise, not many things are known whether „Presidents Cup Bylaw WTF“ also have been changed for this new amendment.
Obviously some gentlemen in the ETU-leadership were still not quite satisfied with the revised nomination criteria. For this reason, one more change happened one month before the upcoming European Junior (U21), again the already quite strange nomination criteria.
Two competitors per nation
In a letter dated June 27, 2016 President Sakis Pragalos called on the Councilmember of the ETU to agree to latest July 6, 2016 by e-mail, that each nation must send two participants per weight category to Grozny at the European Championships (U21). (see link)
On July 7, 2016 Sakis Pragalos informed the Councilmember that the decision by 27 votes and no votes against was adopted and therefore at the European Championships (U21), two participants from any membernation may be at the start per weight class. (See link) together with the „gold medalist“ a nation could therefore send a maximum of three participants per weight category to Grozny.
Perhaps there was another decision in the meantime, but perhaps also not all nations understood the new ETU nomination system. Russia and Turkey, for example reported in several weight classes over the „allowed“ two-plus-one participants. In the class of men to 54 kg five Russian athletes were on the pool list, in which the „gold medalist“ came from Romania. In classes 74 kg and 87 kg Russia filed for four participants and the class 57 kg, 67 kg and 80 kg respectively three. Turkey was more cautious and niminated four competitors only in the classes 58 kilograms and 63 kilograms and three in the class to 80 kilograms.
Honestly, structured decisions really look different!
Who sets the nomination criteria?
Since the establishment of the World Federation WTF, it was always the exclusive right of national associations, to select and name the participants, which may go for their nation in international championships at the start.
Now of course the question arises, who is allowed to change the rules regarding the nominations of national athletes to international competitions at all? Can a continental federation deprive its members as a fundamental right such as the nomination of its competitors in a night-and-dagger operation? Just because you wanted to lure as many competitors for the participation in WTF Presidents Cup.
Of course, it also raises the question of whether the World Association may change the nomination criteria without consent and behind the backs of nations in rushed process? Can the World Association simply allow a continental federation the adoption of its own „Bylaws“? Does the World Association watch on the bustle of ETU idly with only reason because the WTF Presidents Cup was carried out, according to Article 1.1 of the Bylaws in honor of WTF president Choue Dr. Chungwon? Is that the justification that it disregards the Competition Rules of the WTF? It will be interesting how the Olympic world federation WTF responds to such a lack of respect.
Disregard of the WTF Anti-Doping Rules?
If the World Association allows that an organization such as the ETU may create arbitrarily the „Bylaws WTF Presidents Cup“ and thereby disregards the provisions of the Competition Rules, then it moves on very thin ice.
According to the WTF Competition Rules all athletes who go in Championships of the WTF at the start, necessarily must be adhere to the guidelines of „WTF Anti-Doping Rules“. (see link)
As consisting of the 88 pages WTF Anti-Doping Rules may be taken, the national associations are obliged to ensure that the members of its national squad adhere scrupulously to the rules of the WTF Anti-Doping Rules, which by the way must be in accordance with the WADA code 2016th. For misdemeanors, the national associations are taken in the liability.
After the ETU decided by changing the WTF Competition Rules, that they may nominate medalists of WTF Presidents Cup for participation in the European Championships, the ETU also assumes the responsibility for this contestant. Whether the WTF is in such cases in the duty would have to be clarified.
Medalists from the Presidents Cup were registered by the ETU via the WTF-registration system „Hangastar“ as a participant of the European Championship (U21) by apparently simply using the account of the member nations. And without knowledge of the national associations. This fact for itself makes clear that the European Union is pressing very heavily on its newly acquired right of nomination. (see link)
The world governing body strongly recommended to ensure clarity as soon as possible in relation to the WTF Anti-Doping Rules because of the quite controversial theme. And that can only mean that it has to keep the ETU in their place or revise the WTF Anti-Doping Rules and of course Competition Rules, too.
Toothing between WTF and ETU
Which body the World Association or at the ETU is able to vote on a decision amending the nomination criteria – if it is at all legally possible? The Council Member or national President of the General Assembly? Or is it sufficient even if the WTF President or ETU-President give their consent?
These and similar issues are regulated in Olympic sports associations in their statutes and related regulations in every detail. Everybody who read through the Statute of the WTF and ETU, will immediately recognize that the ETU Statute is consistent with the WTF Statutes. Both statutes have largely the same wording.
In Article 3.1 of the ETU Statute explicitly states that the rules of the World Federation is recognized by the ETU as binding and is the basis for the statutes of the ETU. This was clearly defined that there is always the right of the WTF in the first place. The ETU may consequently change any rules, if this is not expressly approved by the WTF.
The statutes of WTF
In Statutes of WTF is performed under Article 3.2 that all the championships have to be made in accordance with the WTF Rules and the statements in the „Competition Rules“. In these so-called Competition Rules all vertices are defined around a Tournament schedule. To ensure a worldwide uniform Tournament scheduling, these basic parameters are binding on all organizers of Championships. (see link)
In Article 4 of the Competition Rules will also determine, among other things, who may qualify the athlete for a WTF tournament. Literally, in Article 4.1 No. 2 under the heading „Qualification of Contestant“ („Qualification of Competitors“). (See link)
„One recommended by the National Association WTF“
From World Association was therefore clearly defined that only the national associations may nominate an athlete for a WTF tournament. An exception for the ETU is not mentioned in Article 4 of the Competition Rules!
The commentary to article 4 was carried out in detail by the WTF on page 10 that the national associations – and not ETU! – Must ensure against the WTF that the nominated athlete (s) have been medically examined, not pregnant and will participate with appropriate health and fitness in the tournament. In addition, all national associations were obliged to accept the accident and health insurance and civil liability for their competitors during the WTF-promoted championships.
Just to avoid misunderstandings: Under Article 1 of the Competition Rules is explicitly stated by the WTF that the Competition Rules apply to the WTF and for the continental federations and national associations. In other words, the ETU has kindly to adhere to these rules.
To put it in a nutshell. The requirements, who may nominate the competitors for international competitions are governed by the WTF. The ETU has no right to change this policy in its own self-importance. In its own statutes the ETU has expressly required in Article 21.1 to the WTF Competition Rules note that all ETU Championships. (see link)
Despite this lip service, the ETU – took its member nations their sole right to the nomination of their competitors – with full intent and contrary to the applicable statute of the WTF. President Sakis Pragalos has shown the world federation and especially the WTF President Dr. Chung-Won Choue very clearly before publicly that he does not want to be deterred by the WTF them to push through his own interests. If you consider that the WTF Presidents Cup was established according to Article 1.1 of Byaw only in honor of Dr. Choue into life, which is already a bit much!
Ignores the rights of the general assembly through various tricks
During the last two years the ETU leadership has repeatedly has ignored the rights of her members quite through various tricks. Therefore, it has to be subsequently discussed once once on these special rights of the member’s nations.
Both the World Association as well as the ETU, the General Assembly is the highest organ. According to article 7. 1, in the ETU the General Assembly consists of the ETU statute of the representatives of 50 national associations as well as the Council.
Next to the president the so-called Council is represented via six Vice-Presidents a General Secretary a Treasurer and 24 Councilmembers.
Theoretically, there is a General Assembly a total of 83 voters.
By the way, three of the six vice presidents and 10 of the 24 Council Member may be appointed by the ETU president – for any reason whatsoever!
The duties of the Council Member
The duties of the Council Member are listed in the ETU Statutes in Article 8.2. In paragraph c) is given there: (see link)
„Formulation, proposals of amendments and repeals of the ETU Statutes, ETU regulations and Rules on Organization and Operation of International Taekwondo championships, and bylaws and codes.“
The Council Member have only the right to work out a „formulation“ for the deliberate changes.
The competence of the general assembly
Quite differently it looks there with the rights of the general assembly. There matter in the article 7.2 above all under letter b) and letter e) to performed competence.
Under letter b) one says: (see link)
„Approval of formulation, amendments and repeals of the ETU bylaws and regulations and Rules on Organization and Operation of International / European Taekwondo championships;“
And in the also rather relevant letter e) was held on:
„other matters of importance;“
When comparing the duties of the Council Members and the powers of the General Assembly is in fact quickly became clear that the Council Members are entitled only the right to formulate the wording for the proposed amendments to the rules and the decisions.
The crux of the „formulation“
Then – and this is exactly the crux – this preformulated desired changes must be approved by the General Assembly. President Sakis Pragalos and his staff must therefore be approved to every little change in the rules or else „other matters of importance“ by the General Assembly.
Under the passage „other matters of importance“ is covered, for example, the suspensions of Sweden, Belgium, Germany and Greece. This also includes the exceptions to this suspension. It cannot be that only an ETU president himself suspends one of his member’s associations from the whole sports activities because of misdemeanours against the ETU statute, afterwards, however, from his own mercy to the suspended competitors – here the Greek competitors are meant – allows the participation to an international tournament.
Whether also the appointment of a person as an ETU honorary president is to be looked as an „other matter by meaning“, would have to and should be also cleared for the future. Perhaps it could then be agreed that one always excludes the people in the choice of the possible candidates who as an official violate deliberately against the statutes.
The ultimate consequence
Of course, it is not clear who initiated the permanent transgressions against the ETU Statutes within the ETU-leadership. But the fact is that as President of the ETU Sakis Pragalos is responsible for the permanent transgressions and must be held responsible for the violation of the rights of members.
And so we were actually back at the beginning of this article. What consequences should and can one expect from a president who has suspended several nations on the grounds that this would violate the ETU Statutes?
One possibility would certainly be a honorable resignation.