Karate is "ready" for inclusion on Olympic programme in 2020, claims President
With eight sports bidding for inclusion on the Olympic programme in 2020, and just one set to be given the nod by the International Olympic Committee (IOC), Antonio Espinos has his work cut out.
The Spaniard is the President of the World Karate Federation (WKF), and in between trips around London during this summer's Olympic Games, Espinos met with insidethegames at the Park Lane hotel where he has been busy working on the 2020 bid.
The IOC could not have been in any closer proximity, meaning London 2012 was particularly crucial for karate, as it was for their fiercest rivals, squash, baseball and softball. Like them, karate is hoping to make it third time lucky after bids for 2012 and 2016 failed. In the case of their bid to be a part of the Olympics which have just concluded in London, karate was especially unfortunate, having won the support of a majority within the IOC, but not quite the two thirds of the voters they needed to win that particular race. For 2020, wushu, roller sports, wakeboard and climbing are also in the running to make it onto the Olympic programme.
Espinos has been the President of the WKF since 1998, and a year later the sport became officially recognised by the IOC. He is determined to keep going until they finally make it onto the programme, and told insidethegames that the sport would both offer something to the Olympics, as well as benefit hugely from inclusion in the Games.
"Karate will bring a spectacular sport attractive to audiences. We feel we can show and present a sport which educates people, and makes them more peaceful and human. At the same time it improves you physically so it is very complete, and the Olympics needs a sport like this one," he says.
"For karate we are ready for the additional benefit that it can get from the Olympics. Most of the countries in the world are not developed. In a country under development all the money goes to Olympic sports.
"Non Olympic sports get almost nothing. And if we could become an Olympic sport this would really help to promote our values. This is the ultimate benefit of the Olympics for a sport like karate."
There are 100 million people practising karate worldwide in 185 different nations, giving the sport a significant reach, but Espinos believes participation would triple if they were added to the Olympics. He is particularly keen to emphasise both the physical and non-physical benefits of the Games.
"We have so many people practising karate because it is a universal sport and a way of life. It is not only physical educational and changes people from inside. It is something we are very proud about, and I feel even though someone might say the Olympics are for 'pure sports', the Olympic spirit is much more than that."
One of the key things Espinos says they have learned from their previous bids is the importance of leveraging the media to their advantage. One way in which they are now doing that is by televising their World Championships. Since last year the WKF have also developed a new Premier League competition. This is a new series of 10 top level karate events worldwide, and prize money will be given out for the first time by the WKF.
The IOC will send an observer to witness this year's World Championships in Paris in November, a key stage in the bidding process. A full report will be prepared by early 2013 on the eight sports, before the successful sport is recommended for inclusion in 2020 at the Session in Buenos Aires next September. There will also be one of the current 26 sports cut from the Olympic programme, with both taekwondo and judo possibly in line for the chop.
Espinos is keen to get across that they "do not want to talk about replacements" and argues they are no more deserving than any existing martial art of inclusion. Each sport has its own place at the Games, he says. But the WKF President is also eager to point out that karate is "the most practised martial art in the world."
Another factor which could help is that karate originated in Japan, and it would be fitting were they to be included on the programme in time for an Olympics which could be held in Tokyo in 2020, if the city beats Istanbul and Madrid to host that edition of the Games – the decision for which will be made in Buenos Aires.
Another potential advantage for karate is the low cost of including the sport on the Olympic programme. There would be 130 athletes competing over two days in the 10 categories already competed at during the World Championships. Karate requires no specialist equipment, and can be competed at the same venue as wrestling, judo, taekwondo and many other sports. As the WKF state on their dedicated bid website, their sport requires just "will, effort and a floor."
Possibly the biggest problem karate will face is the strength of competition they will be up against. Squash is similarly universal, and is throwing significant resources behind their bid, aided by Mike Lee's Vero Communications. Whilst baseball and softball are, unlike squash or karate, a former Olympic sport, and are merging their bids to strengthen their own hopes, giving them an increased global reach.
Having failed to get onto the Olympic programme twice, a successful bid for 2020 requires not just determination and perseverance, but also the wisdom to learn from past errors, which Espinos insists they have.
"We have improved the things we felt we had to improve and kept those we thought we had to keep. We present ourselves as an improved candidate. We are confident, we are proud of what we represent and are confident we will get it this time."
Espinos adds that "many members of the IOC" recognise the work they are doing, adding that "we now have very positive feelings. We are familiar with all the procedures and we think in general the opinion of the IOC community is that karate has improved."
The matter will be out of his hands in just over a year's time but Espinos is a man who has left little to chance. Before he leaves he insists: "If we achieve it or not depends on many factors."
Then he adds: "I can tell you - we are ready."