During the competition, almost 700 competitors (696) from 56 countries participated in the fifth edition of the World Judo Veterans Championships in Abu Dhabi. This year, the event had a particular taste as it was organized right after the Judo Grand Prix and the competition benefited from using the same facilities as one of the top IJF World Judo Tour events.
“We never had so much participating countries,” said Andrei Bondor, the chairman of the IJF Veterans Commission, before adding: “We had a little bit less competitors than during the past editions because usually the host country provides more than 200 fighters. In Abu Dhabi, the veterans are not so developed yet, but I am sure that this World Championships will help to increase the popularity of judo within the older generations in the country and this is very positive.”
During three days, an enthusiastic crowd saw an array of categories contested as veterans world champions were designated. The first day is usually dedicated to the women and the older generations. “This is important. It illustrates the respect that is part of the DNA of our sport. It’s a strong message to the society, saying that you can practice judo until no age. The oldest competitors here was 84 years old. Beyond everything, it is a strong symbol that judo is an activity that fits to every age categories”, said Andrei Bondor.
The two other competition days are more similar to ‘regular’ competitions and especially the M1 and M2 categories features top level athletes that retired from the international level and really good and interesting fights can be seen, sometimes the only difference being the age difference and maybe just a little less intensity. But the envy to win and to give oneself best prevails, always in a very friendly and respectful way.
It must be said that for the last 10 years, the judo veterans commission did a tremendous work to popularize judo among all generation. The adventure started 10 years ago, when Mr. Vizer was European Judo President. Understanding that it was important to propose activities to keep judo people within the judo family, he created the Veterans commission and events were set up. When in 2007, Mr. Vizer became the IJF president, the activities naturally moved to a worldwide level. After a first edition in Germany, then in Budapest, again in Germany, and last year in Miami, the Word Veterans Championships stopped in Abu Dhabi this year, when next year it will be held in Marbella, Spain. In the meanwhile, projects involving veterans have been developed on the five continents and this year, more than 40 countries organized a Veterans National Championships for more than 11,000 competitors. Andrei Bondor said: “The increase is important. National Federations understand the importance of Veterans activities. As an example, we have recently noticed that we have more than 48% new visitors on our website (http://www.ijfveterans.com). More and more people are interested by our programs which go far beyond the only sports dimension.”
Actually, the IJF considers the Veterans activities as real social events and the locations are never chosen by chance. In Abu Dhabi, more than 200 competitors came with their family and will spend holidays in the country. In 2014, the Veterans World Championships will be held in Marbella, Spain. They will be organized in coordination with the Kata World Championships. Andrei Bondor explained: “Many Kata athletes are also competing in Veterans and vice-versa. It is logical to associate both events. But next year, we will also develop a strong judo and family program including social events, training in clubs with children. We want to show the human side of judo.”
If the organization has really become professional, the Veterans commission insists to maintain a strong fair play spirit among all the participants and participants are not professionals, they are passionate judo players. The IJF invested a lot in the quality using all international standards and rules. Nevertheless, having fun and enjoying the competition remain the main goals and the organization must be flexible.
It is particularly interesting to notice that all social levels are represented during the three-day competition but the judogi covers all social differences: “We had doctors, officers, as well as retired people in Abu Dhabi. They all enjoyed spending time together. The competition is a very good and useful reason to gather people together”, said Mr. Bondor.
“The fact that our championship was connected with the Grand Prix, gave the opportunity to the veterans to watch today’s top level athletes. They could also enjoy doing judo in the same venue, on the same tatami as Olympic champions. They also had the chance to compete live on TV in the whole U.A.E.”, said Andrei Bondor, before adding: “We had the honor to have the visit of Mr. Marius Vizer yesterday, just before he had to leave to Japan for the next Judo Grand Slam and he was really happy with what he saw. I want to thank all the commission members for their hard work as well as the IT staff, who ran the competition, which is not an easy task due to the number of categories. A special thank must also be given to the 18 referees who voluntary came here and who were lead by Vincent Griffo. They did a fantastic job.”
During one week, Abu Dhabi became the judo capital of the world. The capital for the top level athletes, the one for the children activities and the one for the Veterans. No doubt that it will help the development of judo in the whole region and in the world.
IJF Media and Communications
Nicolas Messner, IJF Media Director, Development Commission Mark Pickering, IJF Media Manager