Irish karate athlete Caradh O’Donovan is at the centre of an international movement seeking equality in the sports world. O’Donovan is calling on other Irish athletes to join up and show a little outrage.
O’Donovan was a multiple World and European title-holder in kickboxing, holding 11 World Cup golds and three World Championship bronze medals, before she made the switch to Karate in 2017. An ancient martial art, it is a new addition to the Olympic programme, and she has her eye on Tokyo2020. By the end of 2018 she was ranked 96th in the world, the highest ranked Irish athlete and held the Irish national karate title at 61kg.
The Sligo woman suffered a major set-back last year when she sustained a horrific injury. At first she thought it was a stress fracture in her ankle however doctors discovered it was a tumour caused by a rare joint disease. Out of action for months, she was set to return to competition at the IKKU Open on March 7th this year. We all know what happened next …
Covid-19 forced everything to a halt. No training and calendar empty of events. Luckily, she was already working with Global Athlete and had plenty to keep her busy.
‘This is something I am very proud of being involved with. Global Athlete played a major part in calling for the IOC to postpone the Games. Athletes were worried, they were training in unsafe conditions and taking risks to go training. The IOC were trying to buy time and not making the decisions,’ O’ Donovan said.
Global Athlete was set up in February 2019 to give a voice to Olympic and Paralympic athletes. O’Donovan sits on the board with athletes from around the world.
Their mission statement reads: ‘We aim to help athletes gain a more represented voice in world sport, recognising that the neglection and suppression of the athlete voice has gone on for too long.’
And if that sounds like a movement you would like to join, O’Donovan says: ‘A lot can be done with people power. I think people don’t always realise how much power they have. The people in charge of sports don’t just hand power over, but when people call them out on it that can force change.’
Her advice to anyone with a problem is to be assured they are not the only one struggling, use social media to speak out and seek allies in groups like Global Athlete.
Ireland’s Karate Athletes Being Robbed Of Olympic DreamShe says: ‘There are really good sides to sport, but they should not be used to cover over the bad things. Global Athlete have given me support that I never had, I felt alone before. There can be a backlash when you speak out but now there is support.
‘I think we are moving to a place where there will be a major shift in how athletes and sport relate.’
She was one of the athletes pushing for reform in Irish Karate, and says this gave her confidence to get involved on a bigger stage. You can read more about the rift here.
‘A lot of people will say to me politics and sport don’t mix, but the Olympics Games is all politics. We need to talk about the politics of the Olympics,’ she says.
Olympians and Paralympians must sign a declaration that they will not make political statements during the games under the Olympic Charter Rule 50. This is policed by national committees. As O’Donovan put it the Olympic Federation of Ireland would be expected to stop someone getting on the plane for not signing.
This will become an issue for the Tokyo Games with serious causes like the Black Lives Matter movement on the radar, she says.
Funding is another key issue for her. Research Global Athlete did showed that shockingly athletes get just 4.1% of Olympic Movement funding.
O’Donovan recently joined Equity Sport as an Ambassador for their work promoting sport in the developing world.
She says: ‘I like their ideas, their projects. Sometimes we think we have things tough here but in countries where sport is underdeveloped, often there is just no opportunity to play sport.’
She is currently supporting Egyptian handball player Lama Elshawarby in her efforts to start a team for women. Handball is the only Egyptian team sport without a national female squad.
‘They say there is no need for a women’s team as women drop out of sport and have children. That does happen, I wouldn’t say it never happens, but it’s not the case for every player. If there was a similar case in Ireland, it just wouldn’t fly anymore. We need to have a bit more outrage around things like this,’ she says.