DENVER -- Three lawmakers have asked the U.S. Olympic Committee to review a taekwondo rule that allows young black belts to disable their opponents with kicks to the head.
In two letters sent Wednesday, Reps. Henry Waxman and Jesse Jackson Jr. and Sen. James Jeffords urged the USOC to look at a 2002 rule that lowered the minimum age for international competition from 14 to 12. Black belts under 14 had previously been governed under junior safety rules, which called for disqualification if a kick to the face or neck disabled the opponent.
Citing medical and taekwondo experts, the lawmakers said children are more susceptible to head trauma than older teens and that mismatches and differing developmental rates increase those risks.
"In my experience, encouraging 12- and 13-year-olds to use disabling kicks to the head is not necessary for training, could cause real physical harm, and violates the spirit of taekwondo," wrote Jackson, a black belt.
The USOC took over the U.S. Taekwondo Union, which oversees the sport in the United States, earlier this year after an investigation found financial and managerial irregularities.
Waxman and Jackson asked the USOC to explain the reasons for dropping the age limit, what measures are used to prevent serious head injuries and why the USTU does not have a program to track injuries. They asked for a response by May 5.
USTU chief executive Bob Gambardella, appointed in January after president Sang Lee resigned, said his organization is gathering data and working on a response.
The letters, sent to USOC president Bill Martin, cited a Korean study last month that showed concussions were twice as likely in middle school taekwondo athletes than high school students.
Two other studies said young taekwondo athletes were three times as likely to get a concussion than college football players and that the concussion rate among girls in taekwondo is higher than any other recreational sport.
Several doctors and a taekwondo referee also were quoted as questioning the rule change.