With less than a year to go before the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games, there is no doubt that the 2019 World Judo Championships is an event that has captured the imagination of the public in Japan and beyond.
Several weeks before the start of the August 25-31 event, the International Judo Federation revealed that all premium seats had sold out, with the rate of sales suggesting ultimately a complete sell-out across all categories.
Meanwhile interest from around the world has been increasing ahead of the World Championships.
The International Judo Federation’s innovative ‘Throw to Tokyo’ initiative led to more than 1,000 entries from across the globe. “It was a really successful competition,” the IJF’s chief media and marketing officer, Vlad Marinescu, says.
“All judo fans were asked to send in a video with a nice, funny, technical or spectacular ippon. We received so many great videos and, after a vote, the winners – 10 in total – were invited to attend the competition to see it live from the venue and to have access to the athletes.
“We will launch another one for Tokyo 2020. It is fantastic to see how many people have participated, their imagination and creativity.”
Throw to Tokyo underlines how the IJF is determined to maximise the opportunity to use the World Championships as a launchpad for various initiatives that will roll on seamlessly to the Tokyo 2020 Olympics.
With judo’s two biggest showcase competitions taking place just months apart in Tokyo, the IJF has a unique opportunity to leverage the sport’s historic links with Japan and its capital.
Judo was founded in Tokyo by Jigoro Kano back in 1882 and the sport’s debut at the Olympics came when the city hosted the Games in 1964. There is a strong feeling of the sport returning to its roots, even as it expands its horizons further than ever before.
“There is a strong tradition of judo in Japan and a strong tradition of organising events,” the IJF’s media coordinator, Pedro Lasuen, says. “The professionalism of the organising committee and the regular exchanges that we have with the All Japan Judo Federation (AJJF) and the Kodokan in Japan guarantees that everything will be ready for the World Championships.
“The teams in place are very professional and absolutely ready to organise an event of the scale of the World Championships. The extra motivation comes also from the fact that the event will be an extraordinary rehearsal for next year’s Olympic Games.”
The World Championships will act as the ideal test event for the Olympics, as well as the year’s biggest judo event in its own right.
This year’s showpiece will take place at Nippon Budokan, the venue that hosted judo’s introduction to the Olympics 55 years ago, and the same arena that will stage the sport’s competition at the Tokyo 2020 Games.
Nicolas Messner, the IJF’s media and Judo for Peace programme director, says: “The venue is perfectly suited for a judo event and, in the few days before the World Championships, we are only working on small details to make sure everything will run smoothly, which we know will be the case.
“The AJJF, together with the IJF, have been working non-stop to organise the best ever World Championships. The IJF is in constant contact with the World Championships organising committee, as well as the Olympic Games organising committee.
“All information will be shared and analysed to identify what needs to be improved or changed. The arena will then enter its final stages of alterations for the Olympics after the World Championships.”
The opportunity to use the World Championships as a rehearsal for the Olympics, though, extends beyond ticket sales and arena logistics.
“We will be looking at everything,” Messner says. “Of course, the success of the World Championships will depend on the level of competition, which is guaranteed to be extremely high.
“However, it also depends on all aspects of the organisation, from the airport, where delegations will be welcomed, to the competition arena itself.
“We will also judge the success of the World Championships on the media coverage. We have received an impressive number of media accreditation applications, which shows that judo is a significant focus for media organisations across the world.”
A detailed review of the World Championships will take place following the conclusion of the event, encompassing a variety of perspectives, to ensure the IJF and its organising committee partners can work towards continuously improving all aspects of judo’s biggest events.
The IJF has also introduced a number of innovations in order to enhance the spectacle. In partnership with the AJJF, the sport’s global governing body announced in March that a new set of colours would be used for the tatami competition mats in Tokyo.
The IJF’s official supplier, Taishan Sports Equipment, has produced the new tatami – with a blue inside area and red outside area – that the IJF hopes will prove to be more viewer-friendly for spectators both at the venue and watching remotely.
“It is something new – an evolution,” Marinescu says. “All sports must change and improve, and judo is not an exception. We are trying our best to make our sport more appealing.
“For the first time, we are also introducing a 360° replay system, meaning that fans will be able to see the action from all angles. This project involves implementing 110 synchronised cameras in order to offer replays from every point of view. It’s a massive step forward for judo and we want to offer what is best for our fans.”
The striking new mats will provide an appropriate platform for the sport’s top competitors. According to Lasuen, the multi-year schedule of competitions introduced by the IJF, building up to this year’s World Championships, as well as next year’s Olympics, has helped to ensure that judo’s best athletes are performing to higher standards than ever before.
“We are in the heart of the Olympic qualification process, with events taking place every month,” Lasuen says. “The World Championships represent the flagship event of the IJF, but we have many Grands Prix, Grand Slams and a World Masters that will maintain the momentum.
“In judo, the World Championships are happening every year, so there is a lot of pressure on the athletes to maintain their performance.
“Competition is immense across all categories and there are potential champions everywhere. That is why it is so special, because all of them must be at their very best level every year, without exception.”