Nicolas Messner
Media and Judo for Peace Director at the International Judo Federation

See all opinions
09/09/2020 par Nicolas Messner

Facing the global health crisis, the judoka community gets mobilized

“Judo is not just a sport. It is much more. It’s impossible to reduce it purely to its sporting dimension. This has always been the case, going back to the origins of the sport. Its Japanese inventor, Jigoro Kano, created judo in 1882 as a sports discipline, but he also intended it as a tool for social development which emancipates the mind and body, contributing to a more just society. Since then, we have never lost sight of this principle and these values. They are inscribed into the DNA of judo, its institutions, its champions and its practitioners.

In recent months, the health crisis has shaken the judo community. The shock wave has been felt all over the planet. It has shaken our daily life, our vision of the future, the functioning of our bodies and our organizations. How can we react? How can we face the effects of the pandemic while remaining faithful to our values and foundations?

As often in the judo world, the answers came from the judokas themselves. They brought their ideas. The champions, above all, were involved in the efforts of the “Judo for Peace” commission of our international federation, the IJF, to try to overcome this unique and uncertain period. The creation of this commission, in 2007, was the work of a Norwegian judoka, an Olympian turned diplomat, in Afghanistan. Since then, it has sought to work for peace through sport, all over the world, with the conviction that judo can contribute to transmitting a moral code, values of respect and inclusion, but also create social bonds.

Over the years, we have intervened in conflict zones, of course, but also in regions or countries recovering from war. In the north of Canada, for example, in the Inuit community, or in the south of Argentina, not far from Ushuaia. We also work with the youngest, the children, by integrating Judo into the school programs in coordination with other IJF programs such as Judo for Children, with, always, this intention of using sport as a means to improve society.

Champions have always played their part. Youri Alvear, triple world gold medallist and double Olympic medallist from Colombia, was involved in a project carried out in Peru. Gévrise Emane from France, also a three times world champion and Olympic medallist, came with us to Iran, where the Judo for Peace Commission is working to promote female participation in judo. An Austrian Olympian, Sabrina Filzmoser, is very active in Nepal where she leads development projects at the foot of Mount Everest.

The blow inflicted by the COVID-19 pandemic was brutal. Confinement, the impossibility of traveling, economic uncertainty were all obstacles to overcome. Despite the experience of the IJF’s Judo for Peace Commission, we were not prepared for it. But it soon became clear to us that we had an even greater role to play in helping the judo community. We targeted one continent, Africa, where resources are extremely limited to fight the health crisis. Then we focused our efforts on Zambia, where we already have a presence in a refugee camp.

In collaboration with the Zambian Judo Federation and the National Olympic Committee, we raised funds through an online platform. The idea was to get the finance to produce and distribute sanitary masks on site. For every dollar donated, we are able to provide a mask. We are at nearly $ 25,000 and over 20,000 masks have been distributed to date. An IJF equipment manufacturer, IpponGear, is supporting our initiative. It makes masks out of scraps of fabric, then gives one free for each mask sold.

We started with the refugees, then the country’s judo players. We could have stopped there, we would have played our part. But we made the decision to extend the distribution to the rest of the population. We weren’t used to it, but given the scale of the needs, it was our social responsibility to go further. We did so humbly, with our means. We will do it again.”

Share this opinion