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Taekwondo bosses have extended a hand of Olympic welcome to their karate counterparts ahead of the sport’s entry in the Tokyo 2020 Games.
Taekwondo long opposed karate’s adoption by the Olympics as it was viewed as competition.
But Yang Jin Bang, the director general of the World Taekwondo Federation, says things have changed and they no longer see karate as a threat.
“They have been trying for so long and now they happen to have the Olympics in 2020 in the home of karate,” said Yang.
“They’re lucky to have the chance, so we should congratulate them and we will compete together for a better Games.”
Apart from viewing karate’s Games debut as deflecting from their own status, Yang believes the two sports can benefit from each other.
“I think there is a good chance that both of us will make improvements,” he said, although he stopped short of claiming karate’s inclusion was good for taekwondo.
“It’s not positive, not negative, it’s just one more sport.”
There are already several combat sports in the Games — judo, wrestling, boxing, fencing — and Yang sees no reason to view karate and taekwondo as treading on each other’s toes.
In fact, despite both involving the kicking and punching — taekwondo actually means the art of hand and foot — Yang insists they are very different.
“At first appearances it (karate) seems very similar, but inside it’s a totally different system — many ball games are similar so why not (have many combat sports),” he said.
“Taekwondo has a unique, special identity: who’s the best in kick fighting.
“You say karate and taekwondo are the same in terms of kicking and punching, but as you see, punching in taekwondo doesn’t mean much. It’s kicking, kicking fighting.
“Karate’s more like punching, so we’re very different.”
Although karate will be part of the Games in Tokyo, that does not mean the sport — which began life as a Japanese martial art — will become a permanent Olympic fixture.
“The IOC gave them the chance for exposure but they’re not in yet, in the complete sense. So we have to see how they perform and how much people like it.”
Yang says taekwondo has become a hugely popular sport across many continents.
In Rio, Jordanian Ahmad Abughaush won his country’s first ever Olympic medal in claiming gold in the men’s 68kg division, while Kimia Alizadeh won Iran’s first ever female medal with 57kg bronze.
Yang believes taekwondo’s future in the Olympics is secure, regardless of karate.
“The IOC, that’s their decision and it’s no longer like karate in, we’re out, or we’re in and karate cannot get in. It’s not any more that story. We don’t see it that way.
“Many countries know taekwondo and we have a lot of advantages in specialities like the scoring system and everything.
“Everyone enjoys taekwondo, a diverse population practises taekwondo, so this is a great thing for us.”
Yang also insists taekwondo has been proactive in welcoming all people into the sport, including those who feel unable to participate in other sports due to their strict religious beliefs.
“We adopted the hijab and everything,” he said.
“Certain sports are prohibited for women in Islamic countries, (such as) combat sports. But in taekwondo they’re allowed to practise.”
Yang says karate is not their concern, but rather growing taekwondo at the Games is.
In world and continental championships, there are eight weight divisions for men and women, but in the Games there are only allowed four.
“We’re the youngest combat sport so we have a quarter of the athletes that judo, wrestling have.
“That’s another reason we want more weight divisions. Firstly because the weight difference is huge (between each category) — that’s an issue for fairness and safety.”