Republic of Ireland Taekwon-Do Association (RITA) Sponsorship
When the pandemic hit in March 2020, the Republic of Ireland Taekwon-Do Association (RITA), along with many other organisations, moved their operations online.
“With Taekwon-Do, it’s limited to what you can do when somebody is practising on their own at home, the technical stuff – obviously you can’t spar with yourself,” says Mark O’Donnell, an athlete-turned trainer who sits on the board of RITA. “But in terms of technical developments, stretching and even for wellbeing, just keeping people in touch with each other, we found that was a huge thing to try and keep people together at the start.”
Keeping people together, remotely if not physically, was huge for many of the members of RITA.
“One of the first things people said is, it’s great to see everybody again, we’re used to seeing each other two, three times a week and training together, and when you have that gap, you kind of realise what you’ve missed.”
This period of adaptation saw the association try out different methods, some of which they may take into the future. With trainers logging on from across the country, members soon had the capacity for training seven days a week if they wanted it.
It’s only now, however, more than 18 months later, that RITA’s live and in-person training are getting up and running again. Re-establishing contact with its members and trying to increase its base are key drivers for them. RITA runs a series of programmes in schools, with a Tiger programme for children between the ages of 6 and 8, and a Dragon programme for children aged 9 to 11.
“The older model of Taekwon-Do training was very much derived from the military,” says O’Donnell. “Years ago, you were coming into a really hardcore training system as a young kid, training with adults. The programme we have now is very much age appropriate, works off best practice, and best principles for bringing young kids into sport, they’re taught at their own level, it’s very much focused on fun and skills development, there’s no kind of high pressure with gradings, or competition. And the retention rates are really, really impressive from it, people stick with it year on year.”
When children do stick around to high level competition level, things can sometimes get complicated.
“We’re just back from Crete,” says Howard, referring to the European EITF Taekwon-Do Championships 2021. Such a trip would usually cost around €1,000, between flights and accommodation, but with increased prices following the pandemic, these costs went up by 50%. With parents often travelling with competitors, this all adds up.
This is where external support can be very helpful, especially large-scale sponsorship from the likes of Hanley Energy.
“Funding support is really a game changer for an organisation like the RITA. It’s a minority sport, whatever way you cut it” says O’Donnell, who recalls time spent trying to prepare for international competitions while running sponsored events to raise money for travel.
“You ultimately have a really short-term view in terms of your training for the next tournament – can I get to Greece, or Italy or Canada or wherever it’s on, or Malaysia, I mean, some of these trips are other side of the world stuff. ”
“Something like this has really allowed us to take a longer-term view because we know we have some stability there for a few years.”
RITA is able to plan ahead by looking at competitors, and mapping out development patterns for the coming years.
Due to lockdown however, the only competitors who were in a position to travel this year were Howard’s own sons, whom he was able to train in their own ‘bubble’.
“It was a historic thing on a personal level, their grandfather [Grandmaster Robert J.Howard] is the president of the Association, one of the first three black belts in Ireland,” says Howard. “They got to represent Ireland, the three of them, together in this one event. It was quite a special moment for the RITA and for our family.”
The main competitors in the world of Taekwon-Do come from Russia, Korea and Ukraine, with the next tier featuring Bulgaria, Greece, Czech Republic and many of the former USSR stans.
“We can see now from going to the Slovenian open and other events, the Greek open, Italian open, we’re now matching and beating the Czechs, they used to always be beating us,” says Howard. “Now we’re holding our own against them.”
Having been established in 1972, 2022 will mark the association’s 50th anniversary.
“We’re hoping to get some of the International Grandmasters and Masters over,” says Howard. Ireland was one of the earliest countries to join the ITF, and combining the country’s own Grandmasters with international masters will celebrate the links within the community at home and abroad. The plans are to hold an event later in the year, so as to avoid any possibility of cancellation.
From Hanley’s perspective, the decision to partner with RITA was a no-brainer.
When looking to sponsor an organisation, Hanley looks for a certain set of criteria: non-mainstream sports, which are inclusive of gender, age and ethnicity, with global appeal. Highly competitive sports with a focus on endurance, where Hanley’s support could make a real difference.
“Business and Taekwon-Do are similar in many ways,” says Niall Franklin, Chief Strategy Officer at Hanley, “but the biggest similarity is the toll they can take on your mental resilience. If you want something sufficiently in both, you will have to work tirelessly for it and never give up. Nothing is accomplished without sacrifice. Dedication, preparation and work ethic are all vital to progress.”
“In Hanley Energy, we try to embrace the discomforts, even when things seem impossible, learn from errors and we have built a strong team around us, where every member deserves credit for the business success,” Franklin continues. “This ethos is closely reflected in two of Taekwon-Do’score tenets, perseverance and indomitable spirit.”
“The impact this has for us is phenomenal in terms of certainty. And that’s backup and support for our competitors and our members that we never had before,” says O’Donnell. With that support comes consistency and the potential for long-term planning.
Between the strength needed to practise Taekwon-Do, and the endurance provided by Hanley, it seems this partnership is only going to lead to bigger and brighter things.