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The long-running row dividing Irish karate has been resolved

The outcome has been hailed as a step in the right direction for the sport.

The dispute has impacted Irish karate for several months.
The dispute has impacted Irish karate for several months.

A LONG-RUNNING dispute in Irish karate that has heavily impacted coaches and athletes appears to have been resolved.

The row, which The42 first reported on last October, stems from a power dispute in the organisation, with two associations claiming to be the sport’s legitimate governing body — the Peter Coyle-led ONAKAI and Karate Ireland ONAKAI.

It emerged last night that an agreement had been reached following an Extraordinary General Meeting.

There were concerns within the sport that the row was set to go as far as the European Court of Arbitration, which would have a major impact on funding and could potentially drag on for the foreseeable future.

However, a breakthrough was reached after an intervention from Sport Dispute Solutions Ireland, who on their official website described themselves as “an independent specialised dispute resolution service for Irish Sport offering both a mediation and arbitration facility”.

There was also assistance from the World Karate Federation, who stated that the only election they would recognise would be a joint-EGM held by both parties.

The ensuing election on Sunday saw Karate Ireland ONAKAI secure all nine of their members a position on the board, which has a provision for 12 members, meaning that three ONAKAI representatives, including Coyle, the former longstanding president of the organisation, were elected onto the board.

Coyle was at the centre of the controversy having initially appeared intent on holding on to his position as president. However, on Sunday, he refused the nomination for the presidency, meaning Karate Ireland ONAKAI representative Chris Kelly was elected unopposed.

Speaking to The42 afterwards, Martin Clynch, another Karate Ireland ONAKAI representative, who was confirmed as secretary, said the outcome was a positive development for Irish karate.

“[Peter Coyle] was respectful in the end in that he didn’t go for the role of president.
The two sides came together yesterday. There will be some bitterness on both sides, but Peter Coyle and Chris Kelly embraced and shook hands. So it is a very rewarding and pleasing result. It indicates the whole saga is done with.

“The executive elected yesterday was a Karate Ireland ONAKAI Executive. These are the ones that all along were championing the rights of athletes and coaches — that cannot be denied.

“So it would be true to say this is a success for coaches and athletes without question.

“Just last week, Karate Ireland ONAKAI received an allocation for a sports capital grant – it’s the biggest allocation Karate Ireland ONAKAI have got in a long time. This has already been pre-approved and there are other funding applications pending. So this will be nothing but beneficial for the sport of karate.”

He continued: ”It’s a confidential agreement, but the upshot is that the result of the EGM would be legally binding on both parties. So it would close the door on anyone to wriggle out of it.” 

Asked about Coyle’s decision to refuse the nomination for president, Clynch felt the former president had little alternative choice amid a well-attended EGM, with around “90%” of those eligible to vote turning out.

Peter Coyle didn’t voluntarily do this. Let’s be honest, he was forced into doing this EGM by the legal case we took, but unofficially he knew that he wasn’t going to get elected [as president] by the numbers. It was very obvious that he was not going to get elected — that was his thinking that he didn’t want to run. In karate, respect and honour is quite a big thing. The argument could be made that Peter Coyle showed respect and did not run, and in one sense passed the torch on to Chris Kelly. It was a show of respect for the betterment of karate.”

Irish karate star Caradh O’Donovan, who has been a vocal supporter of the Karate Ireland ONAKAI group throughout this saga, hailed the outcome as a positive step.

Athletes such as O’Donovan were directly affected by the dispute. Just prior last year’s World Championships, three coaches were removed from their positions leading to disappointing performances in some cases, while in other instances, athletes were blocked from competing.

“It’s a relief really, that’s the word. And it’s nice to have a line drawn under it,” O’Donovan said.

“For me, it’s not going to have an impact straight away because I’m out injured. But for the qualification tournament for the Olympics next year, knowing we’re going to have fair selection procedures all that sort of stuff is brilliant.

“It’s a pretty good result, as good as we could have hoped for.”

And is she confident that everyone in the organisation will now be able to work in relative harmony following this seemingly decisive outcome?

 You have to be able to work with people. I’m not the one who’s in a position of power, but I do think the Karate Ireland board are very professional and they would be able to put that stuff aside. And I really hope that the other side don’t lose out

“I think there’s a really good opportunity now to grow the sport and make it more of a professional set-up, because the people voted in to that job are really well qualified for it. I know that from my point of view and Karate Ireland’s point of view, they’re very much happy to work with everybody, that’s the professional thing to do. The only way to grow a sport is to put aside that and see how people can work together. Hopefully, the other group will do the same.”

Peter Coyle had not responded to a request for comment at the time of publication.

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Paul Fennessy

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