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After a long battle, karate has the long-awaited opportunity on the stage of the Olympic Games

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FILE PHOTO: Spanish Karate kata athlete Sandra Sánchez, current world and European champion, poses during a training session in Madrid as she prepares for the upcoming Tokyo Olympics. Photo taken on March 3, 2021. REUTERS / Sergio Pérez / File photo

TOKYO- Karate has fought a long and hard battle to earn its place as an Olympic sport.

Despite its 100 million practitioners around the world, a solid place in popular culture, and a rich history that some say dates back to the 15th century, the Japanese martial art proposal to join the Olympics had been rejected. three times, including, initially, the one in Tokyo. 2020.

It was only thanks to the provision under the “Olympic Agenda 2020” reform plan adopted in 2014 that the hosts of the Games were able to propose a number of sports and karate got a second chance.

Pressured by then-Chief Cabinet Secretary and current Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga, karate officially won its place two years later to join Asian martial arts judo and taekwondo on the big stage in Tokyo.

Unfortunately for Japan’s karate federation, however, entering the Olympic sphere also exposed rampant harassment of one of its top athletes by a senior federation member in a scandal that shocked the local karate world.

With only four months left until karate’s debut at the Games, Japan Karatedo Federation (JKF) technical director Masao Kagawa was forced to resign when karateka Ayumi Uekusa blew the whistle, via the hotline. of the Olympic Games, about his abuse and the unauthorized use of a bamboo stick during training that caused a serious injury to his eye.

The federation quickly fired Kagawa as head of the sport’s “Player Strengthening Committee” and replaced him with a popular former karate champion, Rika Usami, known as “the queen of kata.”

With the scandal behind, karate will look to Tokyo 2020 to show why it deserves to be a fundamental Olympic sport.

Karate has been ruled out for Paris 2024, although it will have a place in the postponed Youth Olympic Games in Dakar 2026 after debuting at the 2018 youth event in Buenos Aires.

In the “kata” category, in which athletes demonstrate offensive and defensive techniques against a virtual opponent, Japanese Ryo Kiyuna is one of the favorites to win what would be the first gold medal for his native Okinawa prefecture, the cradle of karate.

For women’s kata, close competition is expected between Spanish world champion Sandra Sánchez and Japanese Kiyou Shimizu after their memorable tiebreaker match at the sport’s main event in 2019.

The “kumite” combat category will involve 60 athletes in three weight categories for men and women, with Steve Dacosta of France, Rafael Aghayev of Azerbaijan, Xiaoyan Yin of China and Serap Ozcelik Arapoglu of Turkey among those to be seen.

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