Karate under fire again - from 4 expelled clubs

Days after it failed to make the final list of 36 sports for next year's SEA Games, the Singapore Karate-do Federation (SKF) took another hit - this time from within the sport's fraternity.

Four karate clubs - Goju-Ryu Karate-Do Seiwa-Kai, Karate-do Goju-Kai Singapore, Shitoryu Karatedo Association and Zenshinren Karatedo Association - jointly wrote a letter to The Sunday Times to dispute SKF's claims that members from expelled clubs were invited to take part in open selections for the national team.

In the letter, the clubs said: "We dispute the statement from SKF honorary secretary Victor Thum that 'selection for the national team is held annually, with members of the seven expelled clubs being invited to take part since 2011'."

One of the parties added that the selection was flawed, and that Singapore was not represented by the best local karatekas. Members of non-SKF affiliates also said that not enough is being done to promote the sport, while numbers at national championships have been dwindling since 2009.

This comes as the latest in a series of setbacks that has plagued the SKF, the national sports association (NSA) of karate. Last week, it failed to get into the final list of 36 sports for the Singapore SEA Games, despite lobbying hard to be chosen, even getting World Karate Federation president Antonio Espinos to Singapore to make its case.

Singapore National Olympic Council (SNOC) vice-president Tan Eng Liang said karate was dropped because the SKF did not have the support of the whole fraternity, and that open selections for the national team were not held.

However, the SKF held firm that it is doing the sport justice. Said its vice-president and national coach, David Thong: "The invite for selections is on our website for all clubs to see.

"We have done community work, and we have gone down to schools. We've also delivered medals at the 2009 and 2011 SEA Games which we took part in."

"The new management, who came in in 2009, has tidied up the financials. We have cleaned up the processes, and are subjecting ourselves to more stringent checks."

"Clubs can re-apply for membership but must subscribe to the rules."

He emphasised that the SKF is always open to dialogue, and that the careers of athletes are more important that internal squabbles. The 52-year-old said: "Give our system a chance. We are going through a radical chance, but in five years' time, you will see a difference."

The jury may be out on whether the current management has brought the sport forward, but the long history of in-fighting within the fraternity has hurt the sport.

In the 1990s, there were at least two instances when the Singapore Sports Council (SSC) had to step in an mediate between the SKF and local karate clubs.

In 2011, seven affiliate clubs were expelled from the SKF for defamation. These seven clubs had also banded to form a separate association - the Karate-Do Union of Singapore (KUS).

The karate scene has been in a limbo since, unable to move past the latest fallout.

A former national karateka, who declined to be named, said: "At the end of the day, these officials need to realise that all this in-fighting hurts no one but the sport and the athletes the most.

"We didn't take part at the last SEA Games and won't be doing so again at our own Games next year. "I feel we have the talent to succeed. But all this bickering has to stop."

An observer told The Sunday Times he hoped that an impartial authority can step in to shake things up and "bring the house in order". SNOC's Tan said: "Karate needs to do something to get back in the mainstream. If they ask SNOC for help, I'm sure we will try and help."

The SSC, now rebranded as Sport Singapore, had intervened to help under-performing NSAs, such as gymnastics in 2003. The Sunday Times understands that it is already looking into the latest conflict.

After all these decades of disputes, many among the karate community are hoping for a breakthrough from the current impasse to lift the sport out of the doldrums.

This article was published on May 4 in The Straits Times.

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