As Nigerian taekwondo players get their turn to pursue gold officials have introduced new rules that will take the sting out of the sport’s deadliest kicks.

To make the sport safer, officials recently announced that any head kicks will be awarded points even if there is no force behind the kick; athletes only need to touch their opponent’s head with their foot to score.

The London Olympics will be the first games to use the new rule. Previously, players had to use some power to demonstrate a proper kicking technique, and kicks that just grazed or touched the opponent’s head didn’t count. That’s now history.

The change has met with criticism from some of the sport’s top athletes, who say it undermines the spirit of the martial art, originally developed by ancient Korean warriors.

“Personally, I think it’s a little silly,” said American Steven Lopez, a double gold Olympic medallist and record five-time world champion. “Taekwondo is a full-contact combat sport and I think a good head kick should still be a good head kick.”

Lopez said he would work with the new rule, “but this doesn’t change the fact that I want to kick (my opponent’s) head as hard and as fast as possible,” he added.

“If a guy can now find a way to score off of me with just his pinkie toe touching my head, I’ll find a way to beat him.”

Officials at the World Taekwondo Federation say the change was made to protect athletes. In recent years, the governing body tweaked the rules to grant players more points for head kicks – athletes now score three to four points for head shots versus one to two points for kicks to the body. That motivated fighters to kick their opponent’s head more often, even though none of the protective equipment, a dipped foam headguard and a mouthguard, has changed.

“We modified the rules for safety,” said Philippe Bouedo of the taekwondo federation. “With the new rule, you just have to have accuracy, not power,” he said. “We’re moving from a power sport to a touch sport for the safety of players.”

 

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