Contrary to what its glorious record – 84 Olympic medals, before these Games – suggests, Judo is facing a deep crisis in Japan. Between 2004 and 2019, the number of middle and high school students belonging to a club fell by 45%. “Lately we’ve been losing 5,000 people a year. It’s extremely serious ”, declared the current president of the Federation, Yasuhiro Yamashita, during his re-election in 2019. At issue, structural problems foremost among which the number of fatal accidents during training.
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According to an investigation by Ryo Uchida, a professor at Nagoya University, at least 121 children have died in training since 1983. “Most of the victims are beginners who die of a head trauma during a fall backwards”, explains Ryo Uchida. “It went unnoticed, everyone found it normal, considering that the risk of injury is part of the discipline”, remembers Keiko Kobayashi, president of the association of victims of judo accidents since 2010.
Her 32-year-old son, brutalized by his teacher during training in 2004, still suffers from a brain dysfunction. “It’s as if his life had ended at 15”, she says. Because behind these accidents, many are those who point the responsibility of the coaches. “Judo is considered a national sport, so some of them try to train champions quickly, by inflicting very hard training on children who are not ready for it”, sighs Noriko Mizoguchi, silver medalist at the Barcelona Olympics in 1992.
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Pushed by the association of Keiko Kobayashi and the media, the Federation nevertheless began to reform, reviewing training for coaches in the early 2010. The number of deaths per year tends to decrease but judo retains this image of sport. dangerous and violent. “We must regain the confidence of the Japanese, admits bitterly Motonobu Isomura, responsible for the security measures of the Federation. We just have to work diligently. “