Karate in the Olympic Games

Organizers of the 2020 Olympic Games in Tokyo have included karate in the shortlist of recommended additions to the Games. A final decision will be made in August of 2016, and in the meantime, advocates of many different styles of karate will be lobbying for their rules to be included in the events.

The IOC has rejected karate as an Olympic event three times previously. Because there are so many different forms of the sport, it’s difficult to define how it would be practiced as a single event. But this year’s approach to admission has been a little different. Two schools of karate, the “softer” form, advocated by the World Karate Federation, and Kyokushin, or full contact karate, are both seeking inclusion in the Games as a way of compromise.

Kyokushin has been treated in the past as a actual combat fighting, not a sport. Additionally, injury is plausible; Kyokushin rewards practitioners whose opponents are injured during the sport. And that, says the World Karate Federation, is not in the spirit of the Olympic Games.

But the reality is that possibly as many as 20 million people all over the world practice full contact karate. Leaving that form out of Olympic competition would disenfranchise millions of practitioners and fans of the sport, especially in Japan. As host of the 2020 Games, it may be in Japan’s best interest to include this form of the sport to increase viewership, sponsorship, and the participation of more Japanese athletes.

Other sports have had to choose styles or forms of their sports. And selecting a solid cross-section of styles is a great move to include as many spectators and participants as possible. If the two karate philosophies can work well together, they’ll likely be able to convince the IOC to include both forms as Olympic events. There’s no down-side to including karate in the Japanese Olympics. Good for the Games, good for the Japanese people, and good for martial artists everywhere.