A cloud of uncertainty has enveloped the sport of karate in the country as the Indian Olympic Association (IOA) recently took a call to derecognise the Karate Association of India (KAI) – the body responsible for governing the sport in the country. The IOA's latest move does not actually come as a 'surprise' given the not-so-cordial relations between the IOA and KAI in recent times. It may be noted that the IOA had summoned KAI President Likha Tara and KAI General Secretary Ambedkar Gupta for a meeting on December 27, but the meeting never took place.
It is important to trace our memory to September 2018 – barely a month after a two-member Indian karate contingent had featured in the 2018 Asian Games. The Karate Association of India had scheduled its elections on September 23 but before the elections could happen, the IOA constituted a three-member ad-hoc committee chaired by Bhubaneshwar Kalita – the committee included IOA joint secretary Rakesh Gupta and Indian Weightlifting Federation Secretary Sahdev Yadav as its members. The IOA at that juncture had asserted that the delay in the election process, expiry of the tenure of KAI and issues over the appointment of the Returning Officer had prompted them to form the three-member ad-hoc committee, whose mandate was to ensure fair and transparent election process within a time span of 120 days.
The appropriateness of forming an ad-hoc committee by the IOA set tongues wagging as the IOC charter stipulates that any action or formation of an ad-hoc committee of national sports federation has to be carried out with the consent of the world body. The IOA's move to form a three-member ad-hoc committee in September 2018 did not go down well with the World Karate Federation (WKF), who wrote a letter to the IOA (a copy of which is in our possession), categorically stating that the Karate Association of India is the representative of WKF in India and that the IOA has no powers to form an ad-hoc committee and further asked the national Olympic association not to meddle in the affairs of KAI.
Subsequently, the KAI election took the litigation route and it was only in January 2019 that the KAI elections were held. The polls saw karate exponent from Arunachal Pradesh Likha Tara – a 7th dan black belt holder took over as KAI President. Tara's contribution to karate in his home state of Arunachal Pradesh has been immense – the state has produced several national and international karatekas under his guidance. A new inning got started at KAI in early 2019 as Likha Tara (he also served as Vice Chairman of Sports Authority of India, Arunachal Pradesh from 2012 to 2015) along with newly-elected general secretary Ambedkar Gupta set out to carry out the affairs of the KIA.
Subsequently, the World Karate Federation President Antonio Espinos wrote to the Sports Ministry as well as to the IOA (letters dated April 1, 2019) officially apprising them that they have accepted and approved the January 8, 2019 elections and left no one in doubt that the KIA's newly-elected body enjoyed their trust and support.
It is pretty clear that the way IOA choose to derecognize the KAI smacks off a feeling of things that the IOA has never been on the same page with the KIA in recent times. "We have only heard it from the media – we are yet to officially receive any letter from the IOA," was how the Karate Association of India Senior Vice President Bharat Sharma put it.
The administrative stalemate in Indian karate meant that the sport suffered – India could not field its karate team at the 2019 South Asian Games held at Nepal. "Why our karatekas have to suffer? We could have easily bagged 8-10 medals in the South Asian Games but we were not allowed to send our karate contingent," added Sharma, who had served two terms as KAI general secretary and is also an 8th dan black belt holder.
The 2018 Asian Games was the last big competitive exposure for the Indian karatekas – the country had fielded two karatekas - Sharath Kumar Jayendran and Vishal. Sharath Kumar Jayendran had lost in the first round of the men's 75-kg Kumite event, while Vishal had lost in the quarterfinals of the men's 84-kg Kumite event.
The derecognition of the Karate Association of India by the IOA won't do any good to the morale of our karatekas, who will have to focus on their preparations for the 2020 World Karate Championships that will be held in Dubai. One hopes that the powers-that-be will do everything possible to ensure the sport of karate is alive and kicking!