Karate using European Games to showcase bid for eventual Olympic inclusion
On the programme at Baku 2015 will be old sports, new sports, new versions of old sports, and, in the case of gymnastics, a programme combining both established and innovative sports.
But there is only one definitively non-Olympic discipline that is confirmed on the programme, and that is karate.
Despite failing with three consecutive attempts to be added to the Olympics, in 2005, 2009 and most recently in 2013, where karate was eliminated at the first round stage before wrestling was eventually returned to the Games, the sport is growing and jostling for another attempt in the future.
Appearing on the European Games, alongside appearances at the Asian Games in Incheon and next year’s Pan American Games in Toronto, is a major way to raise its profile.
“Baku 2015 will be very, very important for us,” admitted World and European Karate Federation President, Antonio Espinós. “There will be opportunities for greater visibility and prestige, and, as the only non-Olympic discipline on the programme, we will have a unique opportunity to showcase the sport.”
There will be some who will read this and no doubt be thinking: ‘Do we need another martial art on a multi-sport programme? Yet, as well as claiming to have a simpler-to-understand scoring system, fewer pads, and a more aggressive – and therefore entertaining – fighting style than taekwondo, karate is also surging in popularity among youth populations, something that deems it very much in the spirit of the times in the Olympic Movement.
President Espinós is far too polite to compare karate with taekwondo and judo, the two other martial arts featuring at the European Games and the Olympics, but he is keen to highlight the strengths of his sport.
“I would say karate is a universal sport,” added the Spaniard, who has led the WKF since 1998. “It is very popular and is now a very strong sport in many European countries, and Patrick Hickey and the European Olympic Committees know karate very well. I feel we can make a very good go of the opportunity provided by participating at Baku 2015, and we will certainly have added value for the EOC.”
Since being formed in 1990, the WKF represents 188 National Federations and has more than ten million members around the world. Although the sport was only introduced to Europe as recently as the 1950s and 1960s, when Japanese masters began to teach the art there, the old continent is now among the strongest global hubs for the sport. At the most recent World Championships, held in Paris in 2012, the 16 events produced winners from four different continents, and podium finishes from five, but France finished top of the pile, while Italy, Turkey, Spain, Croatia and Azerbaijan all secured multiple medals.