How much do Taekwondo athletes make?

Money in Combat

I have won 33 medals, over 100 matches and I have represented Australia on multiple occasions, yet I have made no money fighting in Taekwondo; why is that?

On my journey to professional combat sports I have been interested in making money from competing more and more. Taekwondo is an amateur sport, going in to competitions, you know that, we as a Taekwondo community accept it. The prize money offered by Governments and Olympic Committees in other countries mostly come from rumors and National Team member information which could change at any moment. It isn’t reliable information.

Winning the World Taekwondo Grand Prix which is happening in Manchester this weekend will earn you a $5000 prize. A silver medal will earn you $3000 and third place will earn you $1000. This is a great incentive for athletes to earn some money at the highest level. But in comparison to other non-Olympic sports, with less athletes, less global media attention and less infrastructure it is not enough. Taekwondo generates hundreds of millions of dollars a year worldwide. The World Taekwondo Federation has 206 Member National Associations (MNA’s) who all run multiple competitions a year. The MNA’s themselves generate a lot of money and in most countries that money is returned to the athletes on the National Teams on some level. In Australia we run roughly 15 competitions a year domestically. Now, obviously expenses go into running these competitions so not all money is profit.

In Australia we have $335,000 of High Performance Funding from the Australian Sports Commission, that is for National Teams and Coaches travel etc. I am going to use the National Championships as a lone example. It is $130 to enter the single elimination event, meaning that cost might only get you one match. Interstate travel cost is cast aside, because it is your choice, it isn’t necessary for you to enter this competition, so you can’t really make a good argument for your own travel cost.

The National Championships had more than 700 competitors, that means STA brought in $91,000 dollars in revenue from entry fees, this is not including the sale of merchandise and spectator entry on the day. For winning this event in the Senior Black Belt category, the highest level, I received a very thin Gold Medal and no prize money.

I am very grateful for the opportunity to become Australian Champion. I am not the only one who loves Taekwondo and I am certainly not the only one to try and turn Taekwondo into a professional sport. But when you compare that event to the Grappling Industries Melbourne Sub-Only event which I competed at in August, which had less competitors, a huge venue (MSAC) and actual quality medals gave out $3000 in prize money across 8 Adult divisions, as well as every competitor receiving $55 in Product vouchers. Why isn’t this possible in Taekwondo?

We can’t claim that the money is going to the National Team like other countries do. The National Team are handled by the Australian Sports Commission and the AIS. So where is the money going? The sad fact of Taekwondo in Australia is that we don’t really know.

It is a cultural issue with the athletes too, we don’t ask for money because no one has. It’s like Gaelic football in Ireland, even with 80,000 people buying tickets to games the players aren’t paid because its for the ‘love of the game’ and the ‘pride in wearing the jumper’. The NCAA in the US are perhaps the worst, they generate billions but the college players whose games are broadcast on ESPN worldwide are not paid because they are being given the opportunity to be drafted to the NFL after 4 years of extortion play; even though only 3% of players are drafted.

I am proud to be National Champion, I am proud to represent my country, I am proud to be a member of this vibrant and bright community. I just want to do it professionally.

Advertisements

You have to learn to adjust

When I first started Taekwondo the governing body at the time gave out ‘National Champion’ patches for the sleeves of your uniform. You had to win Nationals to win one, ever since I saw a black belt with those patches all the way down his arm I wanted one. I have wanted to be National Champion for so long that I had to hold back tears last week when I won the Australian Heavyweight Title.

I called my girlfriend afterwards, she was so proud of me that I cried a little. It has been an emotional journey to the top. Before I go into what I want to talk about in this post I need to take some time to thank some people. The first people are my parents Tina and Wayne, they have been by my side on this journey since the beginning. My Dad would miss shifts at work, reject overtime and give up his precious weekends to drive me to comps, watch me fight, drive me to the other side of the city for training and various other ins and outs that being the best required. I am forever in debt to them.

I would also like to thank my first coaches, Zoran, Jerry, Leanne and Ross at Halls in Sunshine, they brought me from nothing to Black Belt in 2 and a half years. They have all had enormous impacts on my fighting style, my attitude towards competing and my work ethic in Taekwondo and in life.

The next person I would like to thank is Carlo. He taught me what it meant to be a professional athlete, he treated me, even in my developmental, early black belt years like a professional athlete and I don’t think I would have grown as much as I have without his influence. He scheduled his personal time to meet with me and discuss training, goals, my strengths and weaknesses and embedded in me the idea that I need to enjoy the journey. Because of his guidance I have achieved one of the big goals I set myself 8 years ago and I couldn’t be more grateful. Of course, Carlo’s directed program was delivered by two excellent coaches, Katrina and Abed who both pushed me past what I thought was possible.

I would also like to thank Allan because the short time I spent with him was focused and hard. I still remember him yelling at me in my first session with him “WE ARE GOING TO TURN THOSE LEGS INTO WEAPONS”. He takes Taekwondo very seriously and he showed me the volume and technical prowess that would be necessary to achieve what I want in combat sport.

I also want to thank my coach Warren at Professional Taekwondo as well as Song who also runs the sparring classes. Warren and I go back a long way, he coached me in my first nationals which I won a Silver at. I’m glad that all these years later I was able to redeem that experience with a Gold. Warren is a very ‘what you see is what you get’ kind of person, he is very direct and very caring. Song is a hard Korean coach, he gives me no slack when I am struggling and has improved my technique and explosiveness by miles in only a few short months.

In combat sport I have learned to adjust my goals as time goes on. I have always believed in being realistic with my expectations. I started Taekwondo very late in comparison to others but because I have always aimed higher than I should have I have achieved more than people think I would have. When I first started Taekwondo I wanted to go down as the greatest Taekwondo athlete Australia has ever produced. To do that I would have to win an Olympic Gold medal, fight at 3 Olympics and win a World Championship. Fast forward 7 years later and I’m the National Champion for the first time. I will not go down as the greatest, that dream will not be achieved. But that’s okay. To all the athletes out there who have not gotten what they wanted, this is the real world, results matter, performances matter and dreams don’t always come true, I am here to tell you that it’s okay.

I have adjusted, my goal is to fight at an Olympics and a World Championships. I may only achieve one of those, maybe I will get neither of them, only time and effort will determine that. When goal setting I have learned to aim higher than you think you can achieve, by aiming for the Olympics I have trained like I am already going, by training like I am getting ready for the Olympics I have become the best heavyweight in Australia. The results speak for themselves. I have learned that not every bridge I burn will be adjusted, that’s something that I have to live with. Not every person I meet will like me. On this monumental high though I will offer this quote.

“I went from most hated to that Champion god flow, I guess that’s a feeling only me and LeBron know” – Kanye West