The Karate Bid

Rio and PyeongChang have recently shown that repeat bidding is one of the most successful ways of gaining Olympic favour, Can karate use the same tactic as their passport to Tokyo?

Despite its greater popularity around the world, one of the biggest problems karate faces is not the competition outside the Olympic Movement, but their rivals that have already found a way in.

The fact that judo and taekwondo are already on the Olympic programme is a major obstacle for karate, as it tries to make the case as to why it could bring something different to the 2020 sports programme.

A campaign for Olympic inclusion at next year’s Games in Rio wilted in the face of golf and rugby sevens. While wrestling’s remarkable turnaround ended their hopes two years ago. In this instance, the WKF (World Karate Federation) are hoping home advantage will help them get their foot in the door.

“Karate is widely known in Japan because it is birthplace of Karate,” Antonio Espinos, president of WKF (World Karate Federation), told SportBusiness International. “There are numerous Dojo (martial art schools) all over Japan. Meanwhile, terms used by referees during Karate competition are all Japanese. Karate’s inclusion in Tokyo 2020 itself will be a great engagement in the Games for Japanese people.

“In Japan, more than 210 junior high schools already conduct Karate class as official physical education subject. School teachers evaluate Karate as a safe and suitable way to educate young students in how to behave politely or how to control body and mind.

To increase opportunities that people have to experience Karate at school is also one of the ways to engage people at the Games.

“Karate has developed an intangible legacy in the host nation already,” he added. “It was born in a southern small island of Japan, introduced to the mainland of Japan in 1920s, and spread as a sport in 1950s among university students who created competition rules for Karate, then introduced it to non-Japanese countries.

In the original 2013 bid race, Espinos told SportBusiness International about the reforms WKF bought to karate to bring it into the modern age, including a change in competition format, with four aligned competition areas for eliminations and one elevated central area for medal bouts during the final two days of competition.

It’s a revolution that has culminated in a WKF corporate partner list that includes the likes of adidas and Sportdata.

“Karate is a global sport with Japanese roots, nowadays,” Espinos said. “Two-third of its 100 million participants are part of the younger generation, and it is practised in 190 national federations across five continents.”

Espinos is also hoping the Agenda 2020- led initiative to change the Games schedule to an event-based programme will work in their favour, after two recent unsuccessful attempts to get into the Games programme for 2016 and 2020, respectively.


EXPERT VIEW – Paul Dunphy
Major Events Consultant, SportBusiness Intelligence

Considering karate was established in Japan, and 2020 is Japan’s time to shine on the world stage you would expect the local organising committee would be keen on showcasing those sports that reflect all things Japanese.

Karate is an appealing sport to the young and has a wide global reach.

The fact that it does not require custom made infrastructure has to be appealing to a budget conscious local organising committee. It will also attract a strong and supportive domestic audience ensuring that venues are full.

A challenge to karate is that there are already three (wrestling, judo and taekwondo) combat sports on the Olympic programme and you would have to wonder if four such sports is one too many?

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