Karate is a new sport to the Olympic program and will make its debut at the Tokyo Games. Before being added to the 2020 Tokyo Olympic program, karate had two unsuccessful attempts to gain entry to the Olympics (it was considered for both the 2012 London and 2016 Rio Olympic programs). The Paris organizing committee's decision not to include karate among its list of proposed sports for 2024 means the sport be a one-and-done in Tokyo. Below is a look at the sport's path to inclusion in the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.
2004: Karate is shortlisted as a candidate sport for inclusion in the 2012 London Olympics.
2005: Karate narrowly fails to gain the required two-thirds majority vote to be added to the 2012 London Olympic program at the IOC session in Singapore.
2009: At the IOC session in Copenhagen, karate is beaten by golf and rugby sevens for the 2016 Olympic program. “We will try again because everybody perceives the Olympics is the pinnacle of achievement…We cannot give up on this objective…we think we deserve to be an Olympic sport,” WKF president Antonio Espinos said at the time.
2014: The IOC approves Agenda 2020, which includes reforms that shift the focus from a set number of Olympic sports approved every seven years to a set number of events across all sports. It also allows host cities to propose adding events to their own Olympic programs.
2016: The IOC approves karate – and four other sports put forth by the 2020 Tokyo organizing committee (surfing, sport climbing, skateboarding, baseball/softball) – as additions to the 2020 Olympic program.
2019: Paris 2024 opts not to include karate in its proposed sports. The organizing committee instead decides to keep sport climbing, surfing and skateboarding, and add breaking. The WKF launches a digital campaign called #Karate2024 to convince Paris officials to change their minds.
2020: The IOC is set to discuss Paris 2024’s proposal of new sports before it goes in front of the executive board in late March. Provisional approval could be granted at the IOC session in June, and the executive board is expected to give final confirmation in December.
New Faces to Watch
With karate being a new sport, there are a lot of new names to keep an eye on as they look to make the most of their Olympic debut in Tokyo.
One of those names is Sakura Kokumai, who was the first American qualified for the karate tournament in Tokyo. Kokumai, born in Hawaii, won the gold at the 2019 Pan American Games for individual kata. She also won a bronze in 2013 at the World Combat Games.
Another karateka to watch is Naoto Sago. With Japan being the birthplace of karate and his home country, the Tokyo Games could end up being a dream come true for Sago -- especially if he ends up taking home a medal. After winning silver at the 2018 World Karate Championships, Sago's hopes of winning a medal in Tokyo are certainly attainable.