After a 500 year history, karate may finally make its Olympic debut in the capital of its country of origin.
But the age-old martial art will have to see off competition from surfing, skateboarding, sport climbing and baseball/softball for a place at Tokyo 2020.
Current national team head coach and British karate legend, Abdu Shaher, is positive that karate’s international appeal makes it the perfect sport to add to the world’s largest sporting event.
Shaher said: “Karate has a right to be in there. It has massive participation in every continent and it preaches the right values for young people in the world today: sportsmanship, respect and hard work.”
The 1988 world champion says karate is the most popular martial art in the world and with estimates for the number of practitioners ranging from 50 million all the way up to 100 million it is easy to see why he feels aggrieved at its exclusion from the Olympics.
“I think it’s overdue that it’s included, it’s the most popular martial art in the world,” he said.
“The sport has diversified and gone global since my day. A lot of Eastern bloc countries are strong now, a lot of the emerging nations like Iran, Azerbijan and Turkey are producing top teams so it has become a lot more difficult.
“Meanwhile the old school countries like ourselves, Germany, France, Italy and Japan the inventors of the sport are still there.”
The 59-year-old remembers the days of the late 80s and early 90s, a period in which he was one of the world’s top karateka, when Great Britain was a dominant force in the sport.
He explained: “Had karate been in the Olympics at that time we would have been adding to Britain’s gold medal tally.
“But because it’s not been in the Olympics we have had no funding for a while, meaning British karate is not at the top at this very moment in time.
“I think with some proper funding, because we are always producing quality competitors, by 2020 we would have a very strong team.
“We have to get back to that previous level.”
Critics would argue that more modern sports such as skateboarding and surfing have greater appeal to the younger audience but Shaher has no doubt that British sports fans would share his love for the sport if they were given the chance.
“Karate is already popular in Great Britain but it would go through the roof if it became an Olympic sport, it would really put it on the map and aid its development,” he said.
“Like many things the rules do take a bit of learning but I think that people would be able to get in to it and understand it fairly quickly.”
The International Olympic Committee will make their decision in Rio de Janeiro in early August, before the 2016 games in Rio de Janeiro begin.
Shaher, who continues to act a spokesperson for karate in Britain, will have to put the champagne on ice until then.
Image courtesy of Abdu Shaher, with thanks
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