Karate excluded from Olympics Paris 2024 before competing in Tokyo next year?

At the announcement that karate is going to be joined in the olympic family, many karate fighters were highly motivated to become immortal by becoming an olympic champion. But the excitement didn’t last.

At the end of the 2016 The International Olympic Committee (IOC) confirmed at the assembly that karate will be one of the five new sports what will compete at the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games. This sport is extremely popular in Japan and has its roots there. It is becoming more and more popular nowadays and is spreading all over the world. But IOC soon reported that karate after the Tokyo 2020 Olympics won’t be included in the 2024 Paris Olympics. That was decided before the first competition even happened. “The Olympics are a special event for every athlete, so it is very important that they have the opportunity to participate. By placing karate at Olympics, our sport has become even more recognizable, which is also linked to the acquisition of funds,” said the president of Karate Federation of Slovenia Borut Strojin, as Slovenia was also looking forward to this decision.

Slovenia has a very successful karate fighter Tjaša Ristič. She is currently ranked 15th in the Olympic rankings, while the top ten will go to Japan. Nevertheless, Ristič fights and collects points that will help her move up the ladder. “The greatest motivation of every athlete are the Olympic Games,” said Ristič. “Quality has sharply risen. Competition has thickened in recent years but since last year, when Olympics are included, it seems to me that the whole world is there,” she added. She explained that in April, the IOC will present the first four competitors. If she will have good results in competitions until April, she has a good chance to get in the TOP 4. Her whole life is subservient to preparations and competitions. There are a lot of competitions abroad, such as Sweden, Spain, Austria, Morocco, Azerbaijan, France and Turkey. She is extremely motivated and down to earth athlete. If she won’t have such great results until April, she has to win a qualifying tournament in the beginning of May in Paris or be at least in the TOP 3 there.

Slovenian Olympic Committee organized a press conference at the beginning of the April this year, as Ristič gave the most remarkable achievement in the history of Slovenian female karate and Slovenian karate in general – when she won a silver medal at the European Championship in Spanish Guadalajara. However, the debate quickly came to the issue of which karate is currently facing. Karate is supposed to be an Olympic discipline only at the Tokyo 2020 but is not listed on the Paris 2024 Olympic Games list. At the last European Championship karate fighters stepped together and called on the IOC to include their sport in the program. Karate fighter Maša Simonič was at this championship and described that minor protest: “With various recordings and the involvement of as many competitors as possible, we wanted to show that we want to remain an Olympic sport. The exclusion of karate made me angry because many karate fighters won’t have the opportunity to compete in Olympics. World Karate Federation (WKF) should have thought about this before and realize that we are not accepted as an Olympic sport. It seems silly to me that they think they will only achieve reintegration through protests. This can be done by many representatives of other sports, and if so, any sport could be an Olympic sport.” Strojin also told Sportal: “If the listing of our sport in Tokyo has brought a lot of positive things, the news of not joining the program of games hosted by Paris in 2024 was a huge negative surprise for us. According to President of the International Karate Federation Antonio Espinos, this decision has not been concreted yet.” Karate is not only strong in the Eastern countries, it also has many representatives in France – around 5,000 clubs. Most athletes are around 18 years old and Olympics would be a huge motivation for them, but not even the abundance of French karate fighters didn’t allow them to make an Olympic appearance.

Borut Kolarič, head of sports programs at the Slovenian Olympic Committee, explained that only the IOC can answer the problem, as they propose and approve new sports. He also explained that the Slovenian Olympic Committee is only guessing why they had been excluded as they hadn’t received an official explanation from the IOC. He outlined the possible reasons that could lead the IOC to this decision.

The first reason, they believe, is that they are restricting the Olympic program in accordance with the IOC’s 2020 agenda, in order not to expand too much. In this case, Karate would send about 80 athletes to the Olympics, while, for example, the break dance discipline would have only about 40 competitors, which makes about 50 athletes a difference.

The second reason, according to their conclusion, is that it is extremely important to the IOC that the chosen sport of Olympics must bring a lot of visibility and interest that would spread among the crowd. It must also be attractive for television broadcasting and on the other hand for live viewers. Those in charge of each Olympics make analyses to determine the presence of sports at subsequent games. For example, karate and break dance were listed as sports at the Buenos Aires Youth Olympic Games. “Break dance was probably more attractive here and this was a useful information for the organizers and the IOC,” said Kolarič, while pointing out that break dance is more accessible and familiar to the crowd. What is also interesting about the Olympics sports program is that other sports are included in the program, but next year they may already be excluded and then re-included, such as softball and baseball, which weren’t included in Rio but will be in Tokyo.

The last interesting fact is that the program is finalised three years before the actual Olympic Games, so the program for the Olympic Games 2024 Paris will be officially decided next year. Kolarič and the rest of Slovenian Olympic Committee are unable to say if karate will be an Olimpic discipline again, so that remains a mystery to them.

“Money doesn’t play a special role in this case, because someone can’t pay to attend the Olympics,” Kolarič explained. He explained that in fact the case is in reverse. The IOC distributes the profits generated to the National Olympic Committees though Olympic solidarity programs as well as to international sports federations. He doesn’t know the key to profit sharing and he is only aware of this financial path. However, he is aware of the costs incurred by Olympic Committee and IOC in this great sporting spectacle. Olympic Committee co-finances preparations, professional support and escorts, transportation and the Olympic clothes collection. The IOC provides Olympians with accommodation in the Olympic Village and local transportation – together with the organizers. Arrangements between the IOC and the organizers are a matter of mutual agreement. However, the cost of the IOC depends of the size of the Olympic Village, because “everything costs something,” Kolarič explained. He emphasized that Olympic Committee doesn’t pay an athlete to attend games, so this is not a financial matter.

Kolarič outlined the potential causes that were discussed with other members of the Slovenian Olympic Committee but at the end the IOC will make a final decision next year on whether to help every athlete’s dream come true or not.

Živa Avžner