The world’s leading judoka take their first steps along the road to the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games in May when they take part in the International Judo Federation Grand Prix event in Hohhot, China.
The competition marks the beginning of what promises to be an intense two-year qualifying programme which will reach its climax in Tokyo’s world-famous Budokan, which hosted the competition when judo made its Olympic debut at the 1964 Games.
While the first Olympic competition featured just 72 male judoka from 27 countries competing in four categories, the sport has since blossomed worldwide. Women’s judo was introduced as a demonstration sport at the 1988 Games and became a medal sport four years later. The sport has continued to spread geographically and grow its competitor numbers.
For the International Judo Federation, the return to Tokyo ‘closes a circle’ for a sport which refuses to stand still.
But, while the sport may have grown and changed beyond most expectations, it has done so by ensuring that it has remained anchored firmly to the Moral Code developed by founder Jigoro Kano.
This emphasises the core values of courtesy, courage, honour, modesty, respect, self-control and friendship which remain at the heart of a sport now played and enjoyed in around 200 countries and which is now using its reach and influence to change the lives of the displaced and disadvantaged.
The growth of the sport was clearly illustrated during one of the early events of this season, when Dusseldorf’s ISS Dome hosted the first Gland Slam event ever held in Germany. While a successful entry into one of Europe’s biggest and most important markets was a significant achievement in its own right, the fact that judoka from 26 different countries were among the medallists says a lot about the spread of talent and the rising stars coming from emerging judo nations. That suggests that this is a sport in good health.
The addition of a mixed team event to the Tokyo 2020 programme is also seen as a significant step forward, both as an example of gender equity and peaceful co-operation in line with the aims of the IOC’s Agenda 2020, and as a way of driving media attention and interest during the ultimate sports showcase.
The IJF believes the team competition will prove to have special appeal to young people because it highlights the rewards of working together, sharing responsibility, being empathic and supportive – all the while performing to your full potential and working towards a common goal.
The introduction of the mixed team competition adds a new dimension to a sport where the globalisation of the circuit, regularity of major competitions and the focus on training camps after major competitions is creating a rising tide of performance across the world.
The result is a sport which is more competitive, global and enthralling than ever before – and one set to shine on the Tokyo stage.