Tom Degun: Karate puts best foot forward in race for the 2020 Olympics
Monday, 26 November 2012
As it has panned out, the race to find out which sport will join the Olympic sports programme in 2020 looks more exciting than the race to find out where the Games will actually be held.
In terms of the host city for 2020, just Istanbul, Madrid and Tokyo now stand in what is certainly not the greatest bid race in the history of the Games. One need only look back to the enthralling 2012 race featuring Paris, Madrid, Moscow, New York and ultimate victors London to draw that conclusion.
But on the other hand, there are eight completely different sports battling it out for the right to appear at either Istanbul, Madrid or Tokyo in 2020.
They are baseball, climbing, karate, roller sport, softball, squash, wakeboard and wushu.
There are however, just seven bids after baseball and softball recently confirmed an unprecedented joint bid for the Olympics, making the race perhaps even more entertaining.
Like the unveiling of the 2020 host city, the announcement of which sport will appear at the Games will be made at the all-important International Olympic Committee (IOC) Session in Buenos Aires in September next year.
As well as submitting endless bid documents and undertaking numerous presentations, each sport will have had one of their major Championships evaluated by the IOC.
In terms of the Evaluation events, karate was perhaps the sport that got lucky.
Of the eight, it was the only sport where the IOC attended its premier competition as the inspection team turned up for the 2012 World Karate Championships in Paris.
The World Karate Championships are held every two years, and given that the sport is not on the Olympic programme, there is no bigger karate competition for the world's elite.
I must admit that I am not a complete expert in karate.
After several years as a participant, I gave up the sport around the age of six shortly after receiving a hugely painful kick to the nose from a much older child (although I'm assured that in today's karate, children are not so woefully mismatched as I was).
Before heading to Paris, I was fully aware that karate was an internationally popular sport but I was still a little taken aback when I arrived at the magnificent Palais Omnisports de Paris-Bercy to find a sell-out 16,000 capacity crowd creating a deafening atmosphere at the 2012 World Karate Championships.
The media interest in the event was also huge with around 300 journalists and 17 television stations in attendance.
Meanwhile the action out in the centre saw around 1,000 karatekas from 114 countries competing.
The standard was simply phenomenal as the athletes fought with blistering speed and skill.
It was a superb show and one certain to impress the IOC inspectors in attendance.
But I couldn't help but feel that karate faces an obvious hurdle in their 2020 bid, which is, incidentally, their third consecutive bid to make the Olympic programme.
That hurdle is the fact that there are already three combat sports on the Olympic programme.
They are boxing, taekwondo and wrestling.
Could this hurt karate?
No, according to World Karate Federation (WFK) President Antonio Espinós.
"We have never thought that there were too many combat sports at the Olympics," the colourful Spaniard told me on the side-lines of the Championships.
"More importantly, we never got the perception from the IOC that there are too many combat sports.
"In the Olympics and the Olympic Movement, there is a place for everybody.
"There are obviously several combat sports at the Olympics but that is because people all around the world like combat sports and participate in them.
"That is certainly not a bad thing for karate.
"This is now our third bid in a row to become an Olympic sport and we believe this will be the successful one.
"We have been learning from the Olympic Movement during former bids and this has allowed us to improve the WKF and karate, as we are showing the IOC here."
Later in his closing press conference, Espinós responded to another of my questions by declaring that the competition "was the greatest World Championships in history".
"There is no way that the IOC cannot be impressed by this," he added.
"The athletes, the crowd and the facility have been truly outstanding and this is obviously very good for our Olympic bid."
I discovered shortly before speaking to Espinós that each of the bidding sports is having its major Championships accessed by just two IOC inspectors, one of who is a member of the IOC Olympic Programme Commission and one of who is a member the IOC director general's office.
For the 2012 World Karate Championships, IOC Olympic Programme Commission member Mike Fennell and project officer at the IOC director general's office Pierre Fratter-Bardy.
Following the 2012 World Karate Championships, Fennell and Fratter-Bardy will compile a report which will be carefully reviewed by the IOC alongside the reports from the other bidding sports next month.
In the bidding process, eight different members of the IOC Olympic Programme Commission are attending the eight Evaluation Championships to help compile the full report.
This is because the IOC Olympic Programme Commission is responsible for reviewing and analysing the programme of sports, disciplines and events, as well as the number of athletes in each sport, for the Olympic Games.
Interestingly, Fratter-Bardy told me that no final decision has been made on how many of the bidding sports will still be in the race by the time we get to Buenos Aires in September 2013.
Rumours are growing the shortlist will again be shortlisted, meaning that there could be just four, three or even two sports for the full IOC membership to vote on for inclusion at the 2020 Olympics. Alternatively, all eight could remain.
And perhaps more than one of the bidding sports could be included in 2020 depending on how many sports the IOC decide to drop from the current Olympic programme.
Only as 2013 arrives will we start getting a clear picture of how things are panning out.
But if the Evaluation events are anything to go by, karate certainly has a fighting chance of making the 2020 Olympics.
Tom Degun is a reporter for insidethegames