At my karate club people call me Sensei, and my friends just call me Richard.

2013/06/04

Failed karate IOC bid thoughts 2020年オリンピック競技の最終候補決定についての感想


It's a nice team kata photo, but kata was not part of karate's failed IOC bid so
it's confusing to use it on official promo material.

It's always hard to look at things in hindsight, but as more information about how the IOC Executive considered its decision last week to short-list wrestling, squash and baseball/softball for the final 1-sport vote in September - in the process rejecting karate - it now comes to light that karate really had a zero chance from February onwards.

After spending two years working on my global studies master's thesis on this topic up until graduation in February, for closure I need to dissect karate's IOC bid one last time.

Wrestling gets in on the 1st round with 8 secret votes.
Baseball/softball in 7 rounds with 9 votes.
Squash in 3 rounds with 8 votes.
(source; Asashi Shinbun newspaper online)

Just to state upfront, I think any sport should be able to be included in the Olympics, or any multi-sports event, as long as they are well organized and they have proper streams of recreational to elite competition. There should be a wide recreational base relative to the dynamics of that sport from which emerges increasingly difficult high-performance levels that peak at regularly held regional and world class championships.

Sports should only be withdrawn from the Olympics when something serious inside these two wide qualifications falls short. But they should be clearly warned first and given time to address those concerns - not just yanked as wrestling was in February, which I don't think was fair to that sport community or wrestling's long history with the Olympic movement.

Since there are limits to the size of major events - there are only so many venues and so many people a certain location can handle - if the overall number of well-organized sports in the world increases - and it is - then current Olympic sports should reduce their profile with less categories to make room for the new sports on the block. Isn't this the sportsman/woman like way?

But making room was not what the IOC has worked towards. Well, their initial enthusiasm was for choosing a new emerging sport by making space within the limit of 28 sports by taking out a current sport clearly in decline.

Yet that's not what happened last week and it's clear now is that karate had a 0% chance of getting on the short-list of 3 sports.

Here's a list for reasons in a random order.

1. Since many multi-sport events have both karate and taekwondo - Pan Am Games, Asian Games - there is obviously a precedent set that both can be in the same event. And both are different, more so than Freestyle wrestling & Greco-Roman wrestling, that they can be accepted for their separate and unique approaches to combat sports. But...

... if there was a concern that taekwondo needed to be pulled from the Olympics by the IOC in order to make a spot for karate to enter, then that wasn't going to happen since the IOC president Rogge said after the last's weeks decision that the IOC will never take taekwondo out of the Olympics. The IOC is worried that Asian countries will criticize them for ejecting an Asian sport because most of the sports in the Olympics are Western.


Well then, was this what the IOC executive thinking
from February after they pulled wrestling, added it to the long short list of 8 sports
and then qualified each sport for its differences into these 3 categories?

If so, karate had no chance since the executives
would have known in February, without a shadow of a doubt, wrestling
would get back in as there is just too much support for this
original Olympic sport.

Bach also wants to be the new IOC president from September.
I have still to read about his opinion on adding
new sports though.

3. Another IOC executive member Dennis Oswald has thrown his name into the hat of candidates seeking to be elected as the new IOC president too and he has said in interviews he wants to see new sports added to the Olympics. He critized this bid process because it was not encouraging new sports to be short-listed since getting new sports into the Olympics was the goal (I might end up saying this again).

So, if he gets elected, maybe he will support
taking out some sports since he mentioned the whole
process of getting new sports to send bids to the IOC
is for the IOC then to choose a new sport.


It looks like he wants to 'streamline' Olympic
sports to have less categories to make room
for new sports too.


This is probably the most important Olympic
news for the karate community since the short-list
rejection.

If Oswald is elected, he might - might - be able to
convince the IOC to accept new sports.

4. In the interview above Oswald states he's
positive wrestling will return to Olympics.
So again karate had zero chance since February.

5. Russian President Putin made a personal appearance 
at the IOC meeting to support wrestling, hence with a
leading world politician taking the time to back-up wrestling,
karate just couldn't compete. Maybe if the Prime Minister
of Japan had showed up for the karate presentation, but
Japan is clearly supporting wrestling since former Olympic champion
Saori Yoshida is heavily promoted on Tokyo 2020 bid billboards all over Japan.

6. Insidethegames.com poll found that wrestling is very popular and karate is not. It's not a perfect reflection of actual sentiment and it leaves open many questions - were those in the wrestling community more aware and more enthusiastic about voting in this poll, were those in the karate community less aware or perhaps even of the 100 million of karate-ka that there are, are there less people with access to the internet, was language a barrier since it was only in English, were there other polls in other languages I and others (IOC) never heard of, etc, etc.

Still, it's a curious result. The total number of votes was just over 300,000 with only 52,000 going to karate. Other than the fact is was in English, the first question that comes to my mind is where are the other millions of karate-ka? Why not more awareness and interest online?

Are the karate community's online efforts weak?
Are not enough things happening online for fans to follow and beware of sport karate in general.

(More on what the world karate community should do in my next post...)

In terms of those numbers, a statistician will have to explain it better to me.

7. In the history of the Olympics, new sports getting added is a rarity.
There were no new sports from 1936 to 1964 - WW2 had something
to do with that since the Olympic movement was on hold for
1/2 a decade - but from 1964 when volleyball and judo
were accepted (a team sport & an 
individual combat sport), mainly one or two sports
have been accepted every 5 to 10 years.

Disciplines within accepted sports have been added,
but the new sports are rare and the road to
acceptance is long. Badminton made its first
demonstration debut in 1972 and it was 
accepted in 1988 for the 1992 Games.

While sports are in or out now - no more demonstrations -
taekwondo demo'd in 1988, but became a full sport in 2000.

In comparison, the WKF (WUKO) were trying to get
recognition by the IOC from the late '70s, receiving
it in 1985, then losing it in 1991/92 and regaining it
in 1999. For sure the political competition with the
ITKF Shotokan spoiled the IOC's feelings for karate,
but here I can't say where the faults were made.

Karate was short-listed for inclusion in 2005 and
2009 for 2012 and 2016, but was not accepted,
then it didn't even make the short-list last week for 2020.

The mood may be split in the IOC now. On
one hand it could be the summer program
is now locked in at 28 sports and all those sports
are on notice to be better managed (fencing's worries),
leaving no room for new sports for a decade or two.

Conversely, new IOC leadership may want
to re-organize and let new sports in.

What about politics, money, sponsorship and potential collusion or corruption spoiling karate's you might ask? Everyone's whispering this quite openly, but not me. Sure, the IOC hungered for golf and rugby and it got them - big monied sports thoroughly entrenched in the sports industrial complex with equipment, clothing, stadiums, golf courses, TV deals, deep-pocket sponsors, etc, all part of the SIC - over the initial favorites karate and squash in 2009. But, I think the world karate community can still do better with what we offer, and truly in last week's decision, wrestling was coming back in for sure.

8. Finally, I have to salute the WKF bid members
and all the people who were involved.
They did what they thought they had to do
and the slogan 'The K is on the Way'
But, the WKF made mistakes that we can
ponder over. I'm not saying I would have done it
better, but a little 'hansei' (reflection) is needed
to know how to deal with the IOC in the future.

A. The moment wrestling was pulled from the Olympics in February
and then added to the 8 short-listed sports, the WKF should have
complained to the IOC that wrestling must be made to wait for
3-5 years like baseball and softball in order to properly re-organize.
It sounds radical and direct, but the WKF needed to get the
IOC's honest attention.

The IOC started playing real hardball when they pulled this stunt
- remember the same majority of  IOC executives who so
enthusiastically took out wrestling where the same executive group that 
so enthusiastically put it back in only 3 months later in only 1 round of voting.

Therefore, the WKF should have played hardball too and
really questioned if the IOC was being truthful.

Really, how many other Olympic sports had scandals or areas of
poor organization that the IOC addressed without the sport or national
federation getting pulled from the official list?

Examples abound - badminton coaches throwing matches, judo coaches beating athletes at the
London Games, not enough female athletes in certain sports, etc.

Fact: Saudi Arabia did not have its IOC membership pulled for not fielding
enough female athletes or for the simple fact is bans girls from doing sports at all!
A few select private schools offering girls sports is not universal inclusion,
an Olympic ideal.

The WKF could have officially complained or even withdrawn their karate bid in protest that the bidding process was not genuine.

But since they didn't drop out in protest, being up against wrestling - the clear favorite to get back in - the presentation strategy should then have been very aggressive.

B. An aggresive presentation would have emphasized karate's strengths in how it compares to other combat sports. Some combat sports only punch, some only wrestle & some only kick whereas karate's kumite competition incorporates aspects of all three (and by wrestling I mean our brilliant take-downs...)

The 3 official WKF videos just didn't cut it for me. The fella in his dogi running outside, falling down and bumping into people was painful to watch, and the other two - one of competition videos of athletes getting hit and failing down - and the other more generic video of kumite, crowds, logos and kata - uh, what, kata?!

Is kumite what kata athletes do with gloves on? Are they using kata moves in fights?
That's the first misconception that comes to mind.

All the promo materials could have showed pictures of the globe with creative images demonstrating where the 100 million karate people are and how from 10 million competitors the 108 potential Olympic athletes would have been chosen through numerous levels of high-performance competition.

C. Based on the current bid, if karate did get into the Olympics, while millions would potentially enjoy watching it, practically it would only affect 108 athletes every 4 years. A pinnacle of high-performance, but the WKF made a mistake about making the Olympic dream for karate the #1 goal, thereby creating competitive and organizational decisions all the way down to the grassroots level simply for bettering its IOC acceptance chances. Body protectors? Safety first, but adults really don't need them and most athletes don't like them.

The goal of the WKF should be to make the karate experience for the 100 million karate members better in coordination with national federations and style associations. One aspect of this focus should be its continual goal of ensuring the WKF World Championships are the ultimate event for our community, like the World Cup is for soccer as the Olympic soccer is several ranks down on the ladder of prestige.

This is the scuttlebutt I'm hearing in Japan now.

I don't buy into the common complaint karate getting into the Olympics will radically change karate's technical focus because we do what we want in our own clubs and we chose how to integrate with the wider karate community while also not holding our students back. Whoever wants to compete should be able to. Whoever wants to challenge a dan test or visit another dojo or learn a new kata should be encouraged. So when it comes to supporting the WKF  and the karate community, I'm all for it, while at the same time, the armchair coach/coach potato who yet still earns a living as a pro coach needs to have his say.

I'm kind of guessing that the WKF has already determined wrestling is going to get back in and they're just playing nice, waiting for the new IOC president to be elected and hoping that person works to yank out declining IOC sports in order to add new ones 4 years from now.

In my next post I will outline my thoughts on what the world karate community should do from now.

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