— Published 13 April 2023

“The Grand Palais, a great spotlight”.

With only six participations since its official debut at the Sydney 2000 Games, taekwondo is still one of the youngsters of the Olympic program. But the choice of the organizing committee to associate it with fencing on the site of the Grand Palais, between the Seine and the Champs-Elysees, offers a historic opportunity to gain light and visibility at the Paris 2024 Games.

At the helm of the discipline, within the OCOG, the French Mehdi Bensafi (photo above). FrancsJeux continues with this former coach its series of interviews with sport managers of the Paris 2024 Games.

FrancsJeux: Your life before the OCOG Paris 2024?

Mehdi Bensafi: I have a long experience as a taekwondo coach. For 15 years, I accompanied the French women’s teams, juniors and seniors. I was assistant coach at the London 2012 Games, where France won two medals, then head Olympic coach four years later at the Rio Games, where Haby Niaré was silver medalist. I then changed direction, still at the French Taekwondo Federation, to become assistant DTN in charge of innovation.

Your past experience of the Olympic Games?

I first had a coaching experience, in London 2012 and Rio 2016. At the time of the Tokyo 2020 Games, I had already joined the Paris 2024 OCOG. I participated in the observer program, but I chose the Paralympic Games, where para taekwondo was making its debut. I must admit that I was very pleasantly surprised by the enthusiasm of the different nations for the event. I felt a great mobilization of the teams, especially to expand the training and preparation. Today, a medal has the same value at the Olympic and Paralympic Games.

What do you remember most about the Games?

My first “memory”, if you can call it that, is the history of taekwondo at the Olympic Games. Since its beginnings in the program, the discipline has brought their first medal to a large number of countries: Niger, Afghanistan, Ivory Coast for girls, Iran also for girls … My second memory goes back to the women’s final of the Rio 2016 Games in under 67 kg, lost by Haby Niaré. She leads by six points, she is beaten by one. Silver is the only Olympic medal won in a defeat. And I have never known gold as a taekwondo coach.

The top issue on your desk?

The transitions between fencing and taekwondo, both at the Olympics and Paralympics. We will be sharing the same venue, the Grand Palais. This is a complex issue, for which we must pre-identify all the steps, then move forward step by step. Next summer we will have an operational test, during the Games, on the competition site, to work on all aspects of this transition from fencing to taekwondo.

The site of taekwondo and para taekwondo: its assets, the challenge in the perspective of the Games?

The Grand Palais is one of the iconic sites of the Paris 2024 Games, a cultural symbol of the city. And, for taekwondo, an immense privilege to be able to use it for competitions. Our discipline is not always well publicized, but it will benefit from a tremendous spotlight. The stakes are high, especially since taekwondo has always been organized in large exhibition halls, with a lot of space. This time, we have to think about how best to fit into a historic venue where space, venue configuration and travel present certain challenges.

Paris 2024 will be a success for taekwondo if…

At the Olympic Games, athletes and staff experience moments and emotions that are often indescribable. Even the public is not always aware of this, despite its proximity. Paris 2024 will be a success for taekwondo if we manage to share these emotions with the public, on site at the Grand Palais or on television. We are working hard on this. This can be done through the animation on the field, the presentation of athletes and the communication made around them, the tools to be made available to spectators and viewers.