2021 World Championships shows off new look Para Taekwondo

With new weight divisions, different classifications, and sleek, new rules, Para Taekwondo’s biggest event returns as 264 athletes from 41 nations gather in Istanbul, Turkey this weekend for the 2021 World Championships 10 Dec 2021
Nathan Cesar
ONE TO WATCHOUT FOR: Nathan Cesar Sodario Torquato of Brazil (red) in action at the Men’s 61kg Taekwondo semis at Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games.
ⒸJoe Toth/OIS
By Lee Reaney | For the IPC

Let the battle for Paris 2024 begin!

World Para Taekwondo’s biggest event returns as over 250 athletes from 41 countries begin their road to Paris 2024 in earnest at the 2021 World Para Taekwondo Championships.

The tournament will feature Para Taekwondo’s new look – more weight categories, different classifications, and updated rules. The event will be held in Istanbul, Turkey on 11-12 December and as a G-14 event, will offer athletes major rankings points in their bids to qualify for Paris 2024.

One of Para Taekwondo’s traditional powers, Turkey was the only country to qualify a full slate of six athletes to Tokyo 2020 and will field a record-breaking 58 athletes to the 2021 World Championships.

It is the third time Turkey is hosting Para Taekwondo’s biggest event, following the Samsun 2015 and Antalya 2019.

Istanbul 2021 is set to become the second-biggest Para Taekwondo event of all-time. The 2019 World Championships featured 333 athletes from 66 countries, although the event included the Poomsae discipline – which will not be included at Istanbul 2021.

With new Poomsae rules passed just last week, the next Poomsae World Championships will be held in 2022.

For the first time, two refugees athletes were set to compete under the World Taekwondo flag. Newcomer Ahmad Rafiq Aladaji (from Syria, based in Turkey) will be represent the World Taekwondo Refugee Team, Paralympic darling Zakia Khudadadi (from Afghanistan, based in France) had to pull out last minute due to injury.

Due to travel restrictions related to COVID-19 and the Omicron variant, at least four teams have had to withdraw before travelling – Afghanistan, Ghana, Japan, and Morocco.


Proving Para Taekwondo’s growing global appeal, several nations besides host Turkey are coming with their strong squad.

The Russian Taekwondo Union (30), Brazil (17), India (11), Kazakhstan (10), Serbia (10), Kenya (9), Niger (9), Georgia (6), Poland (3), Romania (1), and the World Taekwondo Refugee Team (1) all set records for numbers of athletes registered.

Since Tokyo 2020, Para Taekwondo has updated its classification and weight categories.

Most athletes previously classified as K43 (impairments on both arms below the elbow) and K42 (impairment on one arm above the elbow) will join their K44 (impairment on one arm below the elbow) rivals in a single, new 'super' K44 classification.

Any athlete that has not been classified since the conclusion of Tokyo 2020 must undergo classification before competing at the 2021 World Championships.

The three weight categories per gender seen at Tokyo 2020 have been replaced by five weight categories per gender that will feature at Paris 2024.

The new divisions are: Women: -47 kg, -52 kg, -57 kg, -65 kg, +65 kg; Men: -58 kg, -63 kg, -70 kg, -80 kg, +80 kg

The tournament will also feature a new single, five-minute round format. Tokyo 2020 saw athletes compete in the old three, two-minute rounds format.


With just three years before Paris 2024, the 2021 World Championships have attracted the vast majority of current and former World Champions, Paralympians, and top fighters.

The biggest names missing from Istanbul 2021 are four-time World Champion and Paralympic Champion Lisa Gjessing (DEN), Paralympic Champion Angelica Espinoza (PER), reigning World Champions Matt Bush (GBR) and Yujie Li (CHN), Paralympic bronze medallist Juan Samorano (ARG), and Paralympian Andres Molina (CRC).

That leaves many of the sport’s biggest stars ready to battle for big ranking points to shoot to the top of the rankings in the new weight divisions.*

One can expect to see the highly anticipated rematch of the -75 kg Paralympic final between reigning World and Paralympic Champion Juan Diego Garcia Lopez (MEX) and four-time World Champion Mehdi Pourrahnama (IRI).

Newcomer Beth Munro (GBR) will also look to continue her scintillating run in 2021. In just her second international competition, Munro knocked off some of the sport’s biggest stars on her way to a surprise silver medal at Tokyo 2020.

Palesha Goverdhan poses following her success in Asian Para Youth Games 2021 held at Bahrain.

The tiny Himalayan nation Nepal will be keen to win its first-ever World Championship medal. Palesha Goverdhan nearly captured the country's first medal – at either the Olympic or Paralympic Games – at Tokyo 2020, before falling to reigning World Champion Li (CHN) by a single kick in the bronze medal match. She won Nepal’s first-ever gold medal at the Asian Youth Para Games last week, showing she could be dangerous in Istanbul.

How will the new weight categories shake down? While many rivalries will remain, others will be born in Istanbul. Watch out for Paralympic bronze medalist Jeong-Hun Joo (KOR) and Magomedzagir Isaldibirov (RTF) in the -80 kg division.

Powerhouse Brazil will be eyeing to reign supreme. After winning the Paralympic medal table with a full set of medals – Nathan Cesar Sodario Torquato (gold), Debora Menezes (silver), and Silvana Fernandes (bronze) – the Samba nation is sending its biggest team ever to the 2021 World Championships. Menezes won the country’s first World Championship in 2019. It would be interesting to see how many medals they would clinch.

The Antalya 2019 World Championships were the coming out party for many of the sport’s biggest stars, including Garcia Lopez, Menezes, and Li. This tournament offers a perfect platform for the emergence of new global sensations.

For action live, tune in at 9:00am local time in Istanbul (7:00am CET) for all the action.

Court 1 action here

Court 2 action here

Court 3 action here

Court 4 action here

*NOTE: Athletes will transfer their already accrued ranking points to the new divisions, i.e. they will not be starting from scratch.