Karate-After a long battle, karate gets a long-awaited chance on the biggest stage


Spanish karate kata athlete Sandra Sanchez, current world and European champion, strikes a pose during a training session in Madrid as she prepares for the upcoming Olympic Games in Tokyo, where karate will be Olympic sport for the first time on March 3, 2021. Photo taken on March 3, 2021. REUTERS / Sergio Perez / File photo

TOKYO, June 30 (Reuters) – Karate has fought a long, hard battle to earn its place as an Olympic sport.

Despite its 100 million practitioners worldwide, a solid place in popular culture and a rich history that some say dates back to the 15th century, the application of Japanese martial art to join the Olympics had been rejected three times. , including, initially, for Tokyo. 2020.

It was only through the provision of the “Olympic Agenda 2020” reform project adopted in 2014 that the hosts of the Games were allowed to offer a number of sports and karate was given a second chance.

Under pressure from then-cabinet secretary and current Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga, karate officially won its place two years later to join other Asian martial arts judo and taekwondo on the big stage in Tokyo.

Unfortunately for the Japanese Karate Federation, entry into the Olympic realm also revealed the widespread intimidation of one of its main athletes by a senior federation member in a scandal that sent shock waves through the world of local karate.

Just four months from karate’s debut at the Games, Japan Karate Federation (JKF) technical director Masao Kagawa was forced to resign when karateka Ayumi Uekusa denounced – via the Olympic Games hotline – his abuse and his unauthorized use of a bamboo stick during training which caused serious eye injury.

The federation quickly fired Kagawa as the head of the sport’s “Player Strengthening Committee” and replaced her with former popular karate champion Rika Usami, known as “the queen of kata”.

With the scandal behind it, karate will look to Tokyo 2020 to demonstrate why it deserves to be a grassroots Olympic sport.

Karate has been ruled out for Paris 2024, but it will have a place in the postponed Youth Olympics to Dakar 2026 after its debut at the 2018 youth event in Buenos Aires.

In the “kata” category, in which athletes demonstrate offensive and defensive techniques against a virtual opponent, Japan’s Ryo Kiyuna is the favorite to win what would be the first gold medal for his hometown of Okinawa, the birthplace of karate. .

For women’s kata, close competition is expected between Spanish world champion Sandra Sanchez and Japanese Kiyou Shimizu after their memorable tie-breaking match at the sport’s flagship event in 2019.

The “kumite” training category will involve 60 athletes in three weight categories each for men and women, with Frenchman Steve Dacosta, Azerbaijani Rafael Aghayev, Chinese Xiaoyan Yin and Turkish player Serap Ozcelik Arapoglu among those to watch. .

Reporting by Chang-Ran Kim, editing by Ed Osmond

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