June, 2019

Karate kid Timothy Petersen is worried:

“Eventually real talent just gives up”

What comes to mind when I say “kata” and “kumite”?

Honestly, chances that you recognize these words are slim. They are different forms of karate competition. Everyone knows the sport by name, but that’s about it. Veenendaal’s Timothy Peterson has been battling at the top for years, and knows that it isn’t easy to live for your sport in the Netherlands... when your sport is karate.

With his 33 years he’s consider “old” in his sport. He has a lot of years in the bank. Just think: On his nineteenth he became European champion among seniors. Twice after that he re-captured the European title. He managed to impress on a global stage to – in 2009 he was ranked first in the world. He stood head and shoulders above everyone else in the Netherlands since the very start.

These last years he has suffered more injuries than ever. Karate is a physical sport that tests your body to its maximum capacity. But Timothy gladly dedicates every scratch, tear, bruise and break to his sport. He still has a big dream that needs to come true: the Olympics. In 2020, Tokyo will be the world’s greatest karate stage for the first time ever.

“Before 2004’s games in Athens there was talk of karate becoming an Olympic game. As a youngster I always said I wanted to go to the Games. Unfortunately it took a long time for karate to be a part of the program”, Timothy explains. The road to Tokyo is difficult. Especially after his disappointing World Cup last year, during which he hadn’t fully recovered from a torn ankle ligament. Nothing comes for free, Timothy learned. And nothing is impossible – neither is reaching the Games. It will be the last rabbit he’ll pull out of his hat. “And I still think I’ll make it”.

Last man standing  

Timothy says he’s had “a bit of luck” in his career. That’s because, as a young karate practitioner, setting everything aside to focus on your athletic career is unique. The sport is small and receives little attention – which brings a lot of financing problems. “From the generation of juniors that I was a part of, I’m the only one left.”

Like I said before, Timothy was very young (19) when he became European champion. The youngest in Dutch-karate history. NOC*NSF embraced him immediately. “I received A-status. That meant an income, a lease car and some sponsorship money”, Timothy explains. About that bit of luck he had, or forced: “Around three years later, the police started with a top-sports selection. I just finished my degree at the CIOS - the Dutch institution for sports education - and signed a full-time contract with the police. The beauty in it was that I only had to work part-time. So I could devote the other half of my time to my sport, while remaining financially covered. That was and is, until the day of today, perfect. The program was stopped in 2011, but they still honor the agreements from back then.

Troubled talents

Being hired under favorable terms gave Timothy the space and rest he needed to focus on his athletic career. But, like Timothy said before, the program has ended. So did NOC*NSF’s support. Timothy is covered up until the Games in Tokyo. But if he looks around him, he’s severely worried. “I see a lot of athletes struggle with funding. My sport just needs financial support. Otherwise there’s no way you’ll make it against karate practitioners from countries that have government-or-company sponsored full-time programs.”

But even just an attempt to reach the top is more difficult in the Netherlands, according to Timothy. “More and more, athletes need a full-time job. That eats away at training hours, rest and all-around quality. If you work 36 hours every week and then train like a beast in the evenings...just try standing in those shoes. Eventually real talent just gives up. It’s such a shame.”

He continues. “Karate practitioners are highly dependant on the NOC*NSF’s policy. Without their support, things just get very difficult. Karate isn’t a sport that receives a lot of media attention, so you’re forced to look for alternatives. To gather attention and financial support through other means. I think that’s absolutely possible.”

Scoutfunding

Timothy hasn’t ever used funding options like crowdfunding, where he would seek one-time financial support from people and companies. “It doesn’t feel right. I think it’s more important to build a connection with your sponsors and identify with a company on a personal level. I try to think beyond money, and into services. That’s why I don’t pay if I have to go to a physical therapist.”

Other forms of sports funding would be welcomed with open arms according to Timothy. Scoutfunding could definitely give the sport a positive impulse. Next to the money you’ll have to put into your sport, the use of social media would be easier for the athlete.

Exactly there lies the future’s sweet spot, according to Timothy. “If you see how much visibility can be created through social media… It also fits the times. But on the other hand, most athletes only want to focus on one thing: their career. You want to win medals and not lose too much energy on other things. Things that can prove quite stressful. A bit of guidance would be welcome.”

The sense of “team” that’s created between athletes and scouts is something Timothy highlights. “Athletes are often self-centered, but a ‘we’ feeling stimulates your performance like nothing else. You feel like you’re not alone in it. You feel supported, strong and because of it, less worried.”

This is how the future karate talent from the Netherlands will stand a chance at the Olympic Games.

Your support matters: Help talented athletes like Timothy to easier funding.

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