Photo/IllutrationKoji Kimura, left, will replace Noboru Kanehara, right, as president of the All Japan Taekwondo Association. At center is Masaki Sakaida, who heads a panel of experts reviewing the association’s operations. (Asahi Shimbun file photo)

The All Japan Taekwondo Association, which has become dysfunctional due to internal confusion, decided to rebuild itself by replacing its entire board of directors with independent outsiders.

The unusually radical step, which comes little more than seven months before the Tokyo Olympics open, underscores the serious challenge the association faces.

The association’s problems came to light when most national team candidates boycotted a training camp in September to protest its flawed management.

Some athletes were unable to participate in an international event because association officials mishandled procedures.

Separately, athletes were required to pay large amounts of money to take part in tours and camps.

Differences in training strategy between national team coaches and the teams athletes belonged to were also not dealt with.

The board of directors discussed those issues but remained in disarray, resulting in the resignation of a senior managing director.

Remarks by association executives aired on TV only compounded the situation.

The association has a history of deep divisions, which led to repeated breakups of the organization.

For the 2004 Athens Olympics, Japan gave up on sending a national team, with the only Japanese athlete competing in the event as an independent.

A shortage of financial and human resources lies behind these problems. It is inevitable that sport governing bodies supported mainly by volunteer work must deal with such challenges.

At these organizations, many executives have worked on a voluntary basis from their early years, paying expenses out of their own pockets and sacrificing days off.

They have strong pride in themselves and are liable to clash with others.

The situation can be further complicated by vertical personal relationships between members who used to train together as athletes.

These factors contribute to a dictatorship by powerful leaders and bitter divisions among members.

Koji Kimura, 79, who has been named the AJTA's new president, was a table tennis world champion.

Kimura has helped put the Japan Table Tennis Association on a solid financial footing and develop a training system for young players.

He has promised to make the taekwondo association an open organization where members find it comfortable to express their opinions.

A bumpy road probably lies ahead for its reform efforts, which will start after its general meeting later this month.

Many other sports are facing similar problems. The taekwondo association’s quest to transform itself is a social experiment worthy of close attention.

--The Asahi Shimbun, Dec. 15

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Vox Populi, Vox Dei is a popular daily column that takes up a wide range of topics, including culture, arts and social trends and developments. Written by veteran Asahi Shimbun writers, the column provides useful perspectives on and insights into contemporary Japan and its culture.