The postponement of the Olympics due to the coronavirus pandemic, Japan’s judo governing body faces a difficult decision on athlete selection for the rescheduled Tokyo Games. Some members of the judo establishment want to stick with the athletes who had already qualified before the postponement, while others believe Japan’s medal ambitions will be better served with new selection trials closer to the games in summer 2021.
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The All Japan Judo Federation is expected to determine its policy at an extraordinary meeting of executives on Friday. While expectations for Japanese judo domination are a constant, the federation faces additional pressure to deliver results on home soil.
According to one executive, many voices within the federation are calling for existing qualifications to be carried over as the most practical option. With no clear timeline for the resumption of international competition amid the coronavirus crisis, there is a belief that there may be too many unknowns to chart a new path for qualification.
All but one of Japan’s 13 representative slots have been filled under the original Olympic timeline, with only the men’s 66-kilogram division yet to be determined. That berth had been whittled down to two candidates — reigning world champion Joshiro Maruyama and former world champion Hifumi Abe — who was set for a winner-take-all bout at the All-Japan Weight Class Championships last month, before its postponement.
For the Olympic 2020, the federation introduced a new three-step selection process, based around performances at major competitions, which had been intended to give selected athletes ample time to prepare for the Olympics. Soon after the International Olympic Committee announced the postponement of the Tokyo Games on March 24, several athletes reportedly urged the federation to clarify its selection policy.
Judgment on the matter had been expected at an executive meeting on April 15, but before it could take place, the federation was hit with an outbreak of the pneumonia-causing coronavirus at its Tokyo headquarters. According to the AJJF, of 19 people working at the federation’s office in the capital’s Bunkyo Ward who were tested, 16 were found to be infected with the virus.
The decision on Olympic selection is now expected to be reached at Friday’s extraordinary meeting before being made official at a board meeting next month. Whatever it decides, the federation will be guided by the principle of selecting athletes with the “strongest prospects of winning gold medals.”
“The current representatives were picked for having the strongest chances of winning gold in 2020, not 2021. We cannot ignore the momentum athletes have over [the] year before the (2021) Olympics,” said an official who proposes the federation go through another selection process.
Among ideas being floated is allowing current and former world champions to contest one-match playoffs for Olympic selection. While it is uncertain whether the currently selected representatives will be the best in their respective divisions in a year, all of the country’s judoka face the immediate problem of being unable to train under coronavirus safety guidelines. Ahead of Friday’s meeting, development committee chairman Jun Konno indicated that achieving a consensus will not be easy.
“We will hear out all opinions, including minority views, one at a time. We won’t know the conclusion until after the board meeting,” Konno said.
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