World Karate Intervenes in Irish Power Struggle

(ATR) Political infighting has divided Irish karate into two bodies, threatening qualification campaign for Tokyo 2020.

BUENOS AIRES, ARGENTINA - OCTOBER 18: Sean Mc Carthy Crean of Ireland and Nabil Ech-Chaabi of Morocco compete in the Men's Kumite +68kg Semifinal during day 12 of the Buenos Aires Youth Olympic Games 2018 at Oceania Pavilion in the Youth Olympic Park on October 18, 2018 in Buenos Aires, Argentina. (Photo by Marcelo Endelli/Getty Images)
BUENOS AIRES, ARGENTINA - OCTOBER 18: Sean Mc Carthy Crean of Ireland and Nabil Ech-Chaabi of Morocco compete in the Men's Kumite +68kg Semifinal during day 12 of the Buenos Aires Youth Olympic Games 2018 at Oceania Pavilion in the Youth Olympic Park on October 18, 2018 in Buenos Aires, Argentina. (Photo by Marcelo Endelli/Getty Images)

(ATR) The World Karate Federation has waded into a karate dispute in Ireland that threatens to derail the country’s qualification campaign for the Tokyo Olympics.

Political infighting has divided Irish karate into two bodies and led to the removal of national coaches late last year, upsetting the nation’s karatekas and their preparations for Tokyo 2020.

Both the ONAKAI [Official National Amateur Karate Association of Ireland] and Karate Ireland ONAKAI have been in conflict for many months over who should lead the governing body for the sport in Ireland.

The bitter row has resulted in the formation of two executive committees in the national federation. Karate Ireland ONAKAI is recognized by the Irish Sports Council and Olympic Council of Ireland, but the rival group is recognized as the legitimate body by the WKF.

With no solution in the feud in sight ahead of the EKF European Championships taking place in Guadalajara, Spain next week, karate’s global governing body has stepped in to ensure all Irish fighters can participate.

In its statement, the World Karate Federation pointed out that the Irish athletes had already previously participated in many WKF events including world championships and karate 1 events.

"The WKF is aware of the internal governance dispute in Ireland and has, in fact, worked together with Irish bodies to secure the welfare of the athletes," the federation said.

"Since a solution to the conflict seemed not likely to be found in a near future by the parties in their internal dispute, the WKF decided to take action and Irish athletes will be allowed to participate at the upcoming EKF senior championships with the direct coordination of all parties by the WKF.

The WKF said Irish athletes would be able to compete at the European Championships "with the same guarantees as the rest of the karatekas taking part at the event".

WKF Wades Into Dispute

World Karate was under pressure to take action amid the angry outcry from Irish karatekas and after lobbying from Global Athlete, the new organization formed last month to give athletes a greater voice in world sport and to protect their rights.

In a letter sent Monday to the IOC, the summer Olympics federations’ body ASOIF and World Karate, Global Athlete’s director general Rob Koehler said Irish karatekas were being "used as pawns" and "held back" from competing at the European Championships.

It pointed out that only those athletes supporting the former president of Ireland’s karate governing body, Peter Coyle, had been registered to compete, while those opposed to his leadership of the WKF-recognized ONAKAI had been barred from entering – until the WKF’s intervention.

"This is totally against the fundamental rights of athletes to compete and is a prime example of the sad and backward state of sport governance," Koehler said.

"This is why a balance of power between athletes and sport administrators is needed now."

He said the IOC, ASOIF and the WKF "have a duty to step in to uphold the rights and welfare of these athletes", blasting the governing bodies for failing to respond to the letters of athletes voicing grave concerns about karate’s governance issues in Ireland.

Athletes’ Concerns

Caradh O'Donovan, an Irish karate team athlete who is dreaming of winning a medal at Tokyo 2020, registered her concerns about the dispute in comments to Around the Rings over the weekend.

She was one of the Irish athletes whose letter to World Karate chiefs was, in her words, "ignored". O'Donovan said the continuing conflict "continues to have a detrimental effect on athletes’ welfare as we are being used as pawns in this ongoing power struggle.

"All we are looking to do is to have access to Olympic qualification events and to be selected based on fair and performance criteria."

On hearing about the WKF’s intervention, allowing her and other athletes to compete at the European Championships, O'Donovan expressed relief – and hope that a full resolution to the Irish karate feud was not far away.

"I'm absolutely delighted that the WKF have stepped in and that we are going to be able to compete. It's been a really stressful few months but we can now just focus on the competition," she told ATR.

"It means that we now have a way to chase our dream of getting to the Olympics and that's all we have ever asked for - just the opportunity to try.

She added: "I hope that this also means that we will be allowed to have our national coaches with us. It's not clear just yet from the WKF statement, so I guess that's the only part that I'm not sure about yet."

Karate’s European Championships run from March 28 to 31.

Reported by Mark Bisson

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