Huge Japanese team seeks glory in Paris Karate1 Premier League event
Japan, which will host the first Olympic appearance of its national sport of karate at the Tokyo 2020 Games, has underlined its medal ambitions in selecting an enlarged team for the first Karate1 Premier League event of the season in Paris.
The Japanese Federation is bringing 41 competitors to the meeting which takes place at the Pierre de Coubertin Stadium sports hall from January 27 to 29, putting strong pressure on hosts France as they seek to replicate their overall victory, with 16 titles, from last year.
That is nearly four times the contingent that represented Japan at last year's Paris event, when 12 of their athletes won a total of six medals.
Following the International Olympic Committee's (IOC) decision last August to include karate among five sports being added to the Tokyo Games, Japan made a huge statement of intent as it re-established its dominance of the World Championships in Linz, finishing top of the medals table with six golds, twice as many as it secured at the 2014 Championships in Bremen.
Among the headline performers in the French capital will be Japan's 2014 and 2016 world champion in kata, and winner at last year's Paris Open - Ryo Kiyuna.
Japan’s team will also feature two other world champions from Linz in Ryutaro Araga, gold medallist in the men's under-84 kilograms category, and Ayumi Uekusa, winner of the women's over-68kg event.
Home spectators will be fixing much of their attention upon Emily Thouy, who took the world title in the under-55kg category in Linz after defeating Brazil’s Valeria Kumizaki.
The World Karate Federation's (WKF) President, Antonio Espinós, told insidethegames that the Paris event is "crucial" to the sport’s plans of developing itself worldwide as it moves towards its Olympic debut.
The Paris event has attracted a record entry of 1,096 entrants from 77 nations - many of whom are highly motivated to secure world ranking points that will assist them in Olympic qualification.
"Karate’s events at Tokyo 2020 will clearly be a celebration of our sport and our intention is to strengthen our structures and increase the already remarkable impact of our sport worldwide ahead of the Olympic Games," Espinós said.
"In this sense, the progress of Karate1 Premier League events is a crucial element."
The WKF is using International World Karate Day, which will be held on June 17 in Munich, as part of its concerted campaign to promote the sport and strengthen its position within the Olympic Movement.
In a letter to international Presidents dated December 20 last year, Espinós called upon them to hold their own "smaller scale" celebrations which would become part of a presentation that will be made to IOC President Thomas Bach.
"After the inclusion of karate in the Olympic Games 2020 in Tokyo and the Youth Olympics 2018 in Buenos Aires, our next big goal is our continuity as an Olympic sport and therefore to be included in the sports programme of the 2024 Olympic Games," Espinós wrote in his letter.
"As I explained to you in the recent WKF Congress in Linz, the first opportunity to achieve this is in September 2017, when the IOC Session in Lima will decide on the sports programme of 2024; karate has to show itself as a worldwide Olympic sport for all social classes and ages.
"As presented at the Congress in Linz, we will present this to the IOC President at the International World Karate Day in Munich on June 17, 2017.
More than 1,500 karateka will be presenting the whole variety of our sport together with our top athletes in the WKF during an exceptional course and a unique show programme.
"Before this, however, all our other 190 National Federations should celebrate their National Karate Day, at a smaller scale, in a date to be decided by each between January and May 2017.
"Whether this is done in a Championship or in a different special ad-hoc event, it is not important.
"It is only important to send a full report of the event to the WKF HQ office.
"On June 17, we will present to the IOC President the International World Karate Day as a new proof of our global commitment.
"Please participate in this great worldwide action to present karate to the IOC, in line with the Agenda 2020.
"Contribute to offer karate the opportunity to remain a part of the Olympic family in 2024."