Karate in Ireland is embroiled in a political dispute which is threatening to shatter the hopes of our athlete’s dreams of qualifying for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.
In June of last year, Karate was welcomed into the Olympic Council of Ireland. The sport is set to make its debut at the Olympics, when it features at the Summer Olympics in Tokyo. For many of our Irish athletes, this is a realistic dream thanks to tireless hard-work and sacrifice, including continual self-funding to compete.
This Olympic dream is being destroyed as a result of a dispute between the sport’s governing bodies in this country.
Prior to Karate being included in the Olympic Council of Ireland, there were months of political un-rest at board level within Karate Ireland ONAKAI, the governing body for the sport in Ireland. A vote of no-confidence was taken against Peter Coyle, the long-standing President and Chairman. Coyle didn’t accept this decision as he believed it was unfair.
Chris Kelly was appointed as the new President however, Coyle subsequently called for an EGM where he was re-instated as president. There was plenty of opposition to this as it was stated that the meeting was ‘unconstitutional’ and thus invalid.
Since then, there has been a breakaway organisation from Karate Ireland ONAKAI, simply called ‘ONAKAI’. This group is headed by Peter Coyle.
After writing to the World Karate Federation (WKF) — the world governing body of Karate, Coyle’s ONAKAI have WKF recognition. As such, ONAKAI have access to all the Irish athlete’s WKF codes – these codes are vital for entering into World and European Championships, as well as Premier League events. All of these competitions are the fundamental way which athletes can gain enough points to qualify for the Olympics.
The original group, Karate Ireland ONAKAI, remains and is still recognised by Sport Ireland as the official governing body of the sport. Most of the athletes have shown their support to this governing body and this is where the turmoil stems from. Those athletes who are supporting Peter Coyle and the ONAKAI governing body are now registered to compete whereas those who remain with Karate Ireland ONAKAI are being blocked – robbing them the chance of fulfilling their dream.
— Karate Ireland (@onakai_karate) March 13, 2019
As ONAKAI have WKF recognition, they have authority over the sport’s Olympic pathway in Ireland. Two months prior to the WKF World Senior Championships last November, an event which allocates the highest number of ranking points for the Olympic Games, ONAKAI dismissed three of the national coaches.
Logically, this caused major uproar amongst the athletes as their coaches who they had worked closely for years had been dismissed so close to the biggest tournament of their lives.
Many of the fighters were reluctant to compete in the absence of their regular coaches. This led to several fighters sending letters to Sport Ireland expressing their frustration and unhappiness of the disruption to their preparations. This however changed nothing and two new coaches were appointed to the national squad.
ONAKAI blocked the Karate Ireland ONAKAI coaches from sitting in the corner during the Championships and even went so far as to ban the athletes from all communication and contact with anyone outside of the ONAKAI circle whilst away.
Further criticism came from the selection process of the World Senior Championships. Athletes were told they would be required to attend squad training which would be the means for which athletes would be selected to go to the tournament. Those athletes who could not make this training session would not be considered for selection. The selection process itself was deemed to have been unfair as a panel who were not involved in the squad training that week were appointed to select the Irish squad to compete at the Championships - no fight-off's were involved and the training session itself seemed to have no purpose.
Since the World Championships, there has been no further signs of the issues between the governing bodies being resolved. There has been attempted mediation between the respective parties, to no avail.
More athletes are being blocked from competing at vital tournaments which is decimating their chances of competing at the Olympics as more Olympic ranking points are thrown away. The EFK European Championships which take place from 29 March – 31 March will see the likes of Caradh O'Donovan, Shauna Mullaney, Sean O’Connor and Rory Kavanagh blocked from competing. This is a direct qualifier for the European Games in Minsk. These are just some of the athletes with genuine hope of reaching the Olympics but are being held back from doing so.
Athletes who have dedicated their lives to their craft and have a real opportunity of representing Ireland at the the highest level are being robbed of their dreams. The Olympics occurs every four years and there is no guarantee that they will get this chance again. These athletes are being used as pawns in a power-struggle to fuel the egos of those in power. Our athletes are being forgotten and something needs to change.
It is baffling to think that this sort of situation still occurs in modern times – individuals in power who clearly have never been involved in sport themselves continue to overlook the athletes who are and should be the most important stakeholders. It is their duty to uphold the rights and welfare of their athletes, anything else is backward and unjust.
There is no two ways about it, these athletes are being robbed from their dreams. Our country is being robbed from supporting potential Olympic heroes. Something needs to change, now.