London, and what comes next?

Right now, everyone’s minds are on London. It is natural, and I am one of those awaiting the festivity of the London Games and the emotions and excitement only the Olympics can bring. But already, I am also thinking of things beyond London. That is, I want to give attention to how the International Judo Federation (IJF) handles post-London revisions relating to match rules and the management of international tournaments. Watching the speed of recent IJF decisions, which at times seem hasty, I think it is none too early to call for discussions on this. Far from it, I feel the very most constructive stance would be to watch the matches in London closely, not just to see who wins or which nations take the most medals, but while giving thought to what form tomorrow’s judo should take. This is Japan’s position and that of myself as well, but beyond that, it is also the concern of judoka friends, current players, coaches and judo experts, and is most likely an expression of the feelings of players around the world.

Changes in recent match rules and regulations have contributed to improving the substance and techniques of matches. Much of this is due to IJF initiatives, but on the other hand, it is also a fact that the abruptness and frequency of rule changes has thrown players, coaches and even referees into confusion. This is because there has not been enough time for the players and others involved to get used to new rules that have repeatedly been put into effect as soon as they were announced, and we are not without cases where players first heard about it after they were out on the mats. As for changing rules with the stated intent that it is “for the sake of good judo,” I cannot help but feel that not much attempt has been made to hold thorough discussions, or at least, that it seems decisions affecting all those involved have been made not openly but after being placed in the hands of a few individuals, and that at times, decisions have been geared toward media appeal at the cost of the players’ genuine needs. If so, it appears to me that there have been discussions held among those of a limited circle, and that conclusions and the progress of the discussions that led to them are obscure. As an example, it is true that the new rule banning direct hand attacks below the opponent’s belt has brought good results, but there is also the aspect that it has virtually killed off use of the kataguruma and other such techniques properly recognized in judo.

The rapid succession of sudden rule changes has brought on confusion. I recently heard a coach appealing strongly that, “Even if they keep on changing the rules, then they should keep it down to something like once in four years.” How to accomplish that? First is to give the players more chances to express themselves than they have yet had, and to lend an ear to what they say. It should make understood the current situation, with the distress of players crushed under the ranking system and heightening frequency of tournaments, unable to follow adequate practice schedules or secure the time needed to recover from injuries. Without consideration of measures to address such problems, there is no way to imagine improving international judo.

This is an important issue. While the current IJF establishment has on the one hand been spending great energy on rules for such detailed matters as which side of the mats the player in white and the player in blue should stand on, and the verbal conduct and attire of coaches in the coach boxes, they have not given full consideration to problems like those above. Neither has there been much audible debate recently on such problems as the players’ behavior and manners, assistance to judo federations in financially disadvantaged nations and territories, or how to help players who find themselves left out of the chance to participate in major international tournaments. As for the referees, several years ago, a policy to foster “true professionals of a level befitting the importance of the tournaments and the quality of the players” was announced, but to this day, the anticipated results in regard to standardization of judgments and the quality of refereeing remain to be seen.

Leaders of the IJF need to listen to world opinion. For that purpose, how would it be if they considered something like holding symposiums in conjunction with major international tournaments and deliberated on judo’s major issues, aiming for well-researched and constructive judo reforms? It might be good to invite players and coaches, judo experts and enthusiasts to such symposiums. There is no special need to rush to do this as soon as the London Games are over. What is important is that changes in rules and regulations from now on are based on solid foundations and are sustainable, and further, in order that they be backed by judoka around the world, that they are allotted all the time needed to carry out fruitful and straightforward discussions. Holding preliminary discussions between the separate continental federations or individual national federations (perhaps as a start, between the Japanese and French federations) could be a consideration. What do you think?

(Translation from my article appeared in the French magazine
“L’Esprit du Judo”, April-May, 2012,    Translator: es )