CARADH O’DONOVAN is campaigning to save her Olympic dream this week, as the former kickboxer turned high-level karate fighter tackles a political battle that has seen her road to Tokyo 2020 derailed.
The ambitious Terenure-based woman won world and European titles as a kickboxer before switching sports with the primary aim of making an Olympic title. She battles with Crohn’s disease alongside her rigorous training regime.
She describes herself as “training well and in excellent all round shape” right now. However, a rift in the world of Irish karate’s governing bodies is within a month of making her Olympic dream, at the very least, an extremely tall order.
“It comes down to politics,” she told the Dublin Gazette, having launched an online protest against the situation.
“Karate Ireland ONAKAI, the governing body for the sport in Ireland, voted out their leader, and he didn’t accept it. He went off and formed another group called ONAKAI, saying the vote had been unfair.
“The body I’m a part of, Karate Ireland ONAKAI, are still recognised by Sports Ireland, but the former head of the organisation is being treated as the main contact point for Ireland by the KWF, the Karate World Federation.
“There’s a split in the sport in Ireland, and the head of the new body has written to those of us on the other side of it insisting we drop our coaches and association with Karate Ireland ONAKAI and join up with them.
“I’m not willing to do it. They were voted out. They have no policies, no child protection set up. It’s only about power.
“I’ve never heard of anything like this in any other sport,” O’Donovan continues.
“Normally the international federation recognises the one that’s accepted locally, but the people involved seem to have the KWF’s ear.
“It’s a shambles, and they’re hoping to pressure the Olympic competitors into switching sides as really the athletes are the only leverage that this second organisation has.”
O’Donovan, one of several high-end athletes affected by the move, and already falling behind on critical ranking points, plans to continue as best she can.
The frustration is evident, in particular as Tokyo 2020 has long been her core aim.
“Realistically, I need this sorted in the next month or it seriously reduces my chances of going to Tokyo,” she says.
“In my opinion, most of they best athletes remain with the original organisation.
“We’ll be fighting in a non-ranking event this weekend, and travelling to Austria in three weeks hoping to be allowed to fight, though we’ve been told we can’t.
“I’ve paid the entry, paid for flights and accommodation. If we can’t compete, I guess I’ll just take a Sound of Music tour or something.
“I want to qualify by ranking, like everyone does. If I can’t move towards that in the next month or so it’ll be gone, and my last chance will be a dangerous once off in June next year, ahead of the Olympics,” she concludes.
“I’ll still try, of course, but I feel so sorry for everyone involved. Especially the younger ones. The politics of the situation is killing their focus, and killing their dreams.”