To the President of IOC, Mr Thomas Bach and members of the IOC
The karate referees secretly call him the Godfather but in the opinion of my friends and I, Antonio Espinos’s behavior is much similar to Sepp Blatter, the ex-president of FIFA with the difference that after 24 years of reign in karate, he is still singly driving the WKF. Since 1998 he has had no contenders in the WKF elections and this year as well, just like the past two decades he will be winning the elections without any other contenders. This time he is promising that with the coming to work of his friend Samaranch, (Jr.) as the next IOC president, karate will definitely be included in the Olympic games. With Espinos and his propaganda taking advantage of the name and reputation of the Olympics, it suffices to point that in the past twenty four years, no one has had the chance or the courage to run as a presidential candidate in WKF through fair elections, which reveals the depth of disaster in a system that has monopolized WKF with an octopus-like grip.
The continental federations elections also, have never been held with more than one candidate. In addition to heading the WKF, Espinos has also monopolized the presidential elections of the European Karate Federation right from the start of its establishment.
In 2016, he appointed his business partner in the UAE as the head of the Asian Karate Federation after he had already added him as a member of the executive board in 2014 in order to easily control the two continents of Asia and Europe. Antonio Espinos has never had any contender in the EKF elections. In 2016, with the alterations he made in the European Karate Federation statutes, he convinced everyone that he is the undisputable authority in karate and will remain as president of WKF and EKF for life. Of course, there are those like us who hope that karate too, like shooting, boxing and weightlifting will be closely examined by the IOC and suspended for structural changes. On one hand, the dominating suppression in WKF has prevented us karate athletes from communicating with the commissions that support athletes and on another hand, the existing protocols between the IOC and WKF do not make it possible for IOC to directly intervene and examine the current situation of karate. As you are aware, sports require presence which is an athlete’s right, therefore, protocols must be compiled and regulated to facilitate the presence of athletes and provide a transparent environment for honorable competitions in sports fields, not cause discouragement and isolation of karate coaches and athletes.
We are presently suffering from refereeing collusions and lack of meritocracy in WKF. We suffer from the absence of an independent referee commission; from a dominant policing system in WKF; from a barrier standing between the athletes. If you look at the 2020 Olympics from a specialized point of view you will realize how much the refereeing collusion has cast a shadow on the spirit of fair play and sportsmanship. Shortly before the 2020 Olympics, complaints were submitted regarding the Olympic shares for athletes from Kazakhstan and the USA that were never pursued or reflected in the media. Meanwhile, the objection and resignation of Australia’s chief referee from the WKF Referee Commission also became a matter of significance. Dion Panassion objected discrimination and lack of meritocracy in WKF and resigned from his position in the WKF Referee Commission before the start of the Tokyo Olympics.
The election cycle in WKF is planned and managed by Espinos himself. By relying on article 5.6 of its statutes, WKF selectively grants affiliation to national federations and disaffiliates those federations that do not support the policies of Espinos. These relations are completely reciprocal. To show gratitude or for fear of being disaffiliated, these federations submit to Espinos’s demands and do not create any barriers for Espinos to select members for the executive board or presidency of the continental federations. And nothing is expected but pure obedience from those who are selected by Espinos for the executive board. In fact, there is a certain human compromise running within the WKF that perpetuates the rule of Espinos, and national federations inadvertently or not, by executing articles 6.3 and 8.2 have practically become objects of dominance.
In 2018, the national federations of Poland and Philippines and in the past year, the national federations of Singapore and Norway were eliminated because of non-occurrence with the policies of Espinos. Pay attention to a copy of an email by Alireza Samandar the ex-president of Iran’s Karate Federation in reply to Espinos’s request. Espinos’s engineering in selection of executive board members is completely evident in the email. (Samandar faded from the karate scene one month after defying Espinos’s request. Refer to the attachment.)
The situation of the WKF Athletes Commission also needs to be investigated. With Espinos’s lobbying, for years it’s been headed by Davide Benetello who will become 54 years old this year. This commission never reacted to what had happened to the karate athletes in Ireland, Philippines, Poland, India, Iran and England. Their position even towards the Russian invasion of Ukraine was not transparent. This commission’s 2021 election results that was concurrent with World Karate Championships in Dubai do not accord with what happened on the day of the competitions. It was reported in the news that Davide Benetello became the head of the WKF Athletes Commission by the athletes’ votes but a picture of him was circulating on Whatsapp by the athletes participating in the same competitions one day after he was elected as member and head of the Athletes Commission, mentioning him as the mafia of karate.
The financial situation of the WKF has also never been transparent. Secret bank account in Australia, setting up front companies and lobbying for selection of executive board members are among significant issues that have turned WKF and EKF into Espinos’s private companies.
The monopolizing nature of Espinos can be cited in articles 6.3 and 8.2 that have replaced the controversial article 21.9. He has always failed to understand the bond between karate coaches and athletes or assumed that by gaining legitimacy from the Olympics, he could replace the robust and deeply rooted karate whose beauty comes from its versatile styles with WKF as a new brand of karate. The wall that Espinos and his cohorts have built around WKF with the name of Olympics and use of the two said articles, although has dispirited us and dried our vigor but it has not taken away our hope in future. Karate is our sport and we find it our obligation to push karate towards new structures to showcase this beautiful martial art sport in the Olympic games and receive the attention it deserves. Considering that WKF gains its legitimacy from IOC, such an aspiration will not be realized without IOC’s intervention in democratizing WKF or more profoundly towards consolidation of karate.
The honourable president and members of the IOC, today more than ever, karate is in urgent need of modernization. We earnestly request that you initiate the process of structural changes in all levels at the WKF. The WKF statutes and rules are abused for hostile, divisive and policing purposes that are contradictory to the spirit of the Olympics. The sense of collective participation in all levels of the WKF has long been perished and many of the WKF national federations’ presidents who comply with the policies of Espinos, have become karate presidents in their country of citizenship for life. The members of the executive board are also either permanent or only replaced at the discretion of Espinos. In fact, there are no candidates to begin with for any elections to take place. Instead of promoting fair play and generosity among athletes, the WKF members of the Referee Commission by engineering the contests and misjudgements, practically affect the fate of the competitions.
Mr. President and IOC members, we need your intervention for the democratization of WKF.
WKF world gold medallist
Head coach of Chelsea Karate Club
WKF World bronze medallist, Former head coach of Iran National Team
WKF continental gold medallist, World universities Karate Champion
WKF world Silver & Bronze medallist