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Antonio Espinos Interview in ATR

(ATR) “With all respect to the others,” Antonio Espinos tells Around the Rings, “if there is a combat sport in the Games, it should be karate.

In this wide-ranging Tuesday Talk conducted during SportAccord, the president of the World Karate Federation explains why.

Around the Rings: How valuable an opportunity has SportAccord been to showcase karate?

Antonio Espinos: Well, it’s very important for us to have visibility, to show so many decision makers and stakeholders of the Olympic Movement that karate is here. We made a big effort to do this stand, which we think pulls people together here.

It’s a unique opportunity to show what we’re doing, and the answer has been the launch of our campaign, which was developed very recently and includes leaflets, handouts, and everything has been very important because of our stand.

ATR: How did karate’s Demo Zone go?

AE: It was very successful. We have a big advantage. When we want to make a demonstration, we don’t have to bring people anywhere because there are always karate clubs. Everywhere you go, there is karate. So we used athletes from Quebec City.

Karate takes over the Demo Zone in Quebec City. (SportAccord)

ATR: What else is the WKF doing this week to advance your bid?

AE: Meetings. At the end, relationships with the people and trying to show that karate is working very hard toward becoming an Olympic sport. We feel that we are better prepared the third time, and this is more or less to get familiar with the decision-makers. Nothing special. We will have a program of communications and giving of information throughout 2012, and a decision will be taken by the IOC Executive Board in May 2013.

ATR: What about development work that karate is doing to enhance its visibility?

AE: We have implemented a new format at our world championships already in 2010, and we are for the world senior championships making our own TV production and commercially marketing our own TV signal. This has been working very well, and it’s been a big success. Now we’re doing it for the second time at our world championships this November in Paris.

And also, we have been implementing what we call the Premier League, which is 10 events per year.

Belgrade, Serbia hosted the 2010 World Karate Championships. (WKF)

ATR: The IOC is very concerned with the universality aspect of sports. You said karate is everywhere. How universal is your sport?

AE: If we have a strong point, this is the universality. We have 185 national federations in the world, and there is no doubt by anybody of how global karate is. This is our strong point.

ATR: How do you distinguish karate from the other combat sports already on the Olympic program? How do you convince IOC members they need another combat sport in the Games?

AE: If there have to be combat sports in the Olympic program, it would make no sense for karate – which is the most popular and global combat sport, with all respect to the others – if there is a combat sport in the Games, it should be karate.

More than 1,000 supporters have stopped by thekisontheway.com to back karate’s 2020 bid. (WKF)

We think there’s a place for everybody on the program.

At the same time, we don’t think the number of sports is the parameter that is defining the size of the Games. The size of the Games is defined more, in our opinion, by the number of athletes, by the number of gold medals that are distributed, not by the number of IFs. So we think there is a place for more than 28. Taking some measures on the size of the Games, in the end, if you say there is room for 35 sports instead of 28, it doesn’t mean the size of the Games is less manageable.

At the same time, it’s such a universal sport like karate and such a productive sport for youth like karate, it’s a big added value to the program with no cost and no complications because we are a program with 120 athletes, and we can use any venue that can be used by six or seven Olympic sports – handball, basketball, taekwondo, judo, any of these venues would be perfect for karate.

Where we’re standing today, the marginal cost of the introduction of such a popular sport is really very low.

ATR: Is karate in other multi-sport Games right now?

AE: It’s in all. We are in Mediterranean Games, Pan American Games, Asian Games, All-Africa Games and Asian-Pacific Games. All. The only Games that we’re missing, still, are the Olympic Games.

Karate at the Pan American Games. (Getty Images)

ATR: And how confident are you for next year’s vote?

AE: It’s difficult to say. We are very confident with ourselves and the way we feel that we have been working. And we have been doing what we need to be doing to be in the best position possible to be selected, but at the end we understand that there are eight candidates now, and there will be nine because the sport that will be going out will be added to the eight.

We have doing all possible to be in the best condition to have the optimal possibilities, but again there are nine and there is only one place, so even the second is the same as to be the last.

ATR: Anything else you wanted to tell me?

AE: In 2005 in Singapore, we almost achieved our objective, as you know. Then in 2009, we were very close again with the voting of the IOC EB. We fully appreciate that the IOC and the IOC members think we are a very good sport.

I was elected in 1998, I hope that 15 years after working toward Olympic karate, I will achieve this objective.

ATR: And if you don’t make it for 2020, will you keep bidding?

AE: Of course.

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