By Gareth Duncan
in Cape Town
The 2011 Junior World Judo Championship is being hosted in Cape Town – the first event of its kind to be held in South Africa.
In 2009, the International Judo Federation (IJF) announced that South Africa would host their first major competition in the World Junior Championship – only the second African nation to do so after Morocco hosted the same tournament in 2010. Two years later, over 650 junior athletes from 65 nations have flocked to the Cape Town International Convention Centre (near the Waterfront) to participate in the four-day U20 event.
The word from visiting fans is that the warm-up and match facilities are top-class, which includes a three-mat arena for the tournament bouts. The competition system is straight knockout in the 16 different weight divsions (from 48kg to +100kg), which involves boys and girls. The tournament ends with the medal fights on Sunday.
SA Judo president Temba Hlasho says he is delighted with what he has seen at the CTICC venue.
‘You just need to be present here to see that this is a world-class event. Everything is in place and everyone is happy,’ says Hlasho. ‘Morocco hosted a good competition last year, but this tournament is in a different class. This proves South Africa can host international judo competitions, whether it’s the Junior World Championship or a Grand Prix. I think we’re even ready to become the first African country to host a Senior World Championship.’
There are 32 South African athletes particpating – 16 boys and 16 girls between the ages of 16 and 19. One of the several coaches on duty, retired South African champion Basil Smith, says hosting an international competition is a massive step in terms of development.
‘The sport lacks sponsors, so to actually host the Junior World Championship in the country saves each squad memeber R20 000 to R30 000 as we don’t have to travel. It also provides much-needed exposure,’ says Smith. ‘More of our athletes can now particpate and face the world’s best juniors. Nothing can top that experience. In order to become the best in the world, you have face the top fighters on a regular basis.
‘The Asian, American and eastern European fighters are the best, so for our youngsters to have the opportunity to compete against them is a massive step in the right direction.
‘But for South Africa to produce champions, we need to get sponsors on board. Most of the international tournaments are hosted in Europe. This doesn’t cost the northern African countries much as the venues are nearby, but it’s costly for us as we live on the other side of the world. The best fighters compete in those tournaments twice every month or two. But our fighters compete in international events twice every year. That’s not enough.
‘We have talent among our juniors, but they need to compete in international competitions regularly if we want to aim for Olympic medals. To be optimistic, we can have a strong eight-man squad ready for the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio. But we need sponsors to make that happen.’
Hlasho echoes Smith’s sentiments.
‘We’re hoping to have two judo fighters at the Olympic Games next year, but even more will be strong enough to qualify for the 2016 Rio Games. The next four years will be an important period for South African judo. Hopefully this Junior World Chmapionship will be the first important step.’