Karate faces uncertain Olympic future as Saudi Arabia's Hamedi disqualified for high-kick

Hamedi's final kick sent Ganjzadeh to the tatami and the Saudi into celebration mode before the mood in the Nippon Budokan arena turned

The final bout of karate's historic debut at the Olympics ended in uproar on Saturday when Saudi Arabian Tareg Hamedi's high-kick to Sajad Ganjzadeh's neck saw him disqualified and his motionless Iranian opponent awarded the gold medal.

Hardly a minute in, Hamedi looked dominant, having scored a three-point "ippon" in the ninth second and he was leading 4-1 before the bout came to an abrupt end.

Hamedi's final kick sent Ganjzadeh to the tatami and the Saudi into celebration mode before the mood in the Nippon Budokan arena turned. Medics rushed to Ganjzadeh's side, placing an oxygen mask on the Iranian and removing him on a stretcher.

It was a cinematic end to the biggest international showcase in the competitive history of karate, which fought for 50 years to get on the Olympic stage.

After a few minutes of discussion among the officials on the sidelines, the referee called the match for Ganjzadeh by disqualifying Hamedi for an unchecked attack, which is not allowed under karate's Olympic rules.

Ganjzadeh returned later for the medal ceremony, walking normally. Both he and Hamedi were expressionless as they stepped up to the podium and collected their medals.

They appeared to harbour no hard feelings towards each other, however, as they hugged and posed for photographs together.

“If you ask me if I agree or not, I disagree, of course, because I love the gold medal,” Hamedi said through a translator. “But I am satisfied with the level of performance I gave, and I accept their decision. I don’t have any objection. I think I played well. That’s all I can say.”

Hamedi, who became only the second Saudi Arabian to win an Olympic medal, took the loss in his stride, saying he was unhappy with the judge's decision but satisfied with how he fought.

Turkey's Ugur Aktas and Japan's Ryutaro Araga took the bronze medals in the men's +75kg kumite category.

The women's gold medal in the +61kg category went to Egypt's Feryal Abdelaziz, who won only her country's second gold medal since 1948 by beating Azerbaijan's Iryna Zaretska in the final. Kazakhstan's Sofya Berultseva and China's Gong Li took the bronzes.

It is too soon to tell whether the IOC will be among those who liked karate enough in Tokyo to want to see it again.

“I hope people will change their mind, and karate will be included in the next Olympic Games,” Abdelaziz said. “There are millions of people around the world who practice karate, and I think it really deserves to be included. We’ve shown these at Games how beautiful it is, and we’ve demonstrated the strength of our competition. I think we deserve a future in the Olympics.”

More injuries

Ganjzadeh was the second karateka on Saturday to be carried away on a stretcher.

Germany's gold-medal hopeful Jonathan Horne suffered a mid-bout injury during the elimination round that left him writhing and screaming in agony and unable to rise from the tatami.

The German Olympic Sports Confederation press officer Michael Schirp said Horne had suffered an elbow injury that would be examined further in hospital. The extent of the damage was still unknown, he said.

Horne, the reigning world champion in the +84kg class, had 20 seconds left in his match.

Earlier in the women's +61kg category contest, Italian Silvia Semeraro's head was bandaged up while venue staff replaced the tatami panels stained with her blood.

Uncertain future

If karate does not want Hamedi’s kick in its sport, it would be understandable if many fans don’t want to see more karate.

Competitive karate’s detractors have long compared it to a violent game of tag that can be boring for long stretches. There was plenty of action at the Budokan, but also plenty of cagey bouts in which neither opponent risked much.

“I hope people will change their mind, and karate will be included in the next Olympic Games,” Abdelaziz said. “There are millions of people around the world who practice karate, and I think it really deserves to be included. We’ve shown these at Games how beautiful it is, and we’ve demonstrated the strength of our competition. I think we deserve a future in the Olympics.”

Updated: August 8th 2021, 10:10 AM
EDITOR'S PICKS
NEWSLETTERS