Karate debuts in protracted battle for a place at future Games
TOKYO, Aug. 5 (Reuters) – When karate makes its Olympic debut on Thursday, it won’t be just the competitors who prove themselves on the world’s biggest sporting stage.
The ancient Japanese martial art itself will have a long-awaited chance to persuade a global audience that it belongs to the Olympics after being snubbed three times in the past – and also by the organizers of Paris 2024.
Karate was initially ruled out for Tokyo 2020, but its place has been secured thanks to a new “Olympic Agenda 2020” provision that allows host nations to offer a number of sports.
The three-day karate program will see some 80 competitors from 35 countries and territories plus the Refugee Olympic team vying for eight gold medals at the Nippon Budokan in Tokyo.
When the International Olympic Committee (IOC) approved karate for Tokyo in 2016, officials from the World Karate Federation believed they had it in the bag for Paris as well given the arguably larger number of followers of the sport in France than in his native Japan.
“We had good vibes at the time,” a WKF official told Reuters, describing discussions with Paris 2024 organizers. The official declined to be identified as these talks were not public .
But eventually, the Parisian organizers abandoned karate and added breakdancing, while keeping the other three sports proposed for Tokyo 2020: surfing, climbing and skateboarding.
IOC President Thomas Bach hailed the move as making the Games “more urban and offering the opportunity to connect with the younger generation”.
With the Olympics already packed with four other combat sports – wrestling, boxing, judo and taekwondo – karate’s odds for Los Angeles and beyond don’t look good.
“I think the meaning was, if he was rejected for Paris, then what chance does he have elsewhere?” said Yuko Takahashi, a former national team “karate-ka”, or karate fighter, who remembered competing in crowded arenas in France and the superstar status enjoyed by her French counterparts there.
“It will be interesting to see how audiences around the world view karate as an Olympic sport,” said Takahashi, who chairs the Japanese Traditional Karate Association.
Tokyo Olympic karatekas, for their part, said they will just focus on their game and hope that will lead to good results for their discipline.
“If we do our best, I think we can help build karate’s reputation for the Olympics after the next few,” gold medal favorite Ryo Kiyuna told reporters.
The Russian Karate Federation said on Wednesday that Anna Chernysheva, who competes in the under 55 kg category and the only karate-ka representing the Russian Olympic Committee, tested positive for COVID-19 and did not participate in the Games.
Reporting by Chang-Ran Kim, additional reporting by Shinji Kitamura; Editing by Hugh Lawson
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