The Values of Judo in the 21st Century… 4

In a letter dated March 1, President Marius Vizer demanded that the Iranian Judo Federation commits itself to end all forms of political discrimination and give assurances that it will no longer prohibit its athletes from fighting or sharing the podium with Israeli athletes.

An answer on May 8 is posted on the IJF website. It is signed by the president of the Iranian Olympic Committee and by Arash Miresmaeili, the recently elected president of the Iranian Judo Federation, who is known to have suffered and benefited from similar circumstances.

The authors formally undertake to respect the Olympic Charter and the IJF Statutes.

This letter appears to be a significant step forward and everyone must welcome the initiative and determination of the IJF President.

It cannot be ignored, however, that the stated will of Iranian officials only confirms earlier agreements. Indeed, the Iranian Federation has de facto accepted to respect without reservation the statutes of the International Judo Federation as of its accession … at the end of the 1970s. It is the same with regard to the Iranian Olympic Committee recognized … from January 1st, 1947.

It should also be noted that so far no Iranian judoka has explicitly transgressed the principle of non-discrimination. The reasons given have always been officially justified by medical advice explaining either an overweight (Miresmaeili in Athens), or an impossibility to fight or to stand on the podium (Mollaei in Paris), to name just these two cases. Statements by politicians, those attributed to athletes by media outlets, although widely publicized by the public, have all received a denial that is also official, but mainly aimed at sports organizations alone.

The authors of the text claim that Iranian judo is in the process of growth, that in their view the achievement of the objectives and the ideal of the IJF requires an effort of mutual understanding as well as patience (sic).

In a way that is reassuring, they go on to say that the Olympic Committee, the Ministry of Sports and the Iranian Judo Federation are sparing no effort in negotiating with Parliament to find a legal solution suited to the situation.

Let’s take note of this beautiful declaration of intent that could be a milestone in the history of international sport.

But remember the recent case of these two Iranian football players, Haji Safi and Masoud Shojaei, banned from the national team for playing in the Europa League with their Greek club Panionios against Maccabi Tel-Aviv in July 2017. The Iranian Minister Sports Deputy had then declared on state television: “They no longer have their place in the national team of Iran because they have crossed the red line of the country”. For the vice-president of the Iranian Football Federation, these players should have refused to participate “even at the price of the cancellation of their contract”. Their reinstatement was possible only thanks to the pressure of the soccer fans and to the intervention of FIFA, the Iranian government not hesitating then to deny having taken any form of sanction against the two players.

All this leads us to a questioning. At a time when Iran’s nuclear agreements are threatened, what credit should be given to a half-hearted engagement in a sector that is not strategic? Are the enthusiastic articles by Mark Pickering and Alan Abrahamson, IJF journalists, announcing a profound change in policy, or are they just an angelic view of the situation? Only the future will allow us to appreciate the real reach of the mail addressed to the IJF.

The Values of Judo in the 21st Century… 3

The sporting orientation of world judo is the subject of some criticism. The main criticism is that Kano’s method is aligned with the model of international professional sports, a mode of operation and references that offend the consciences of those for whom competition is only one facet of the activity. In a decade, significant changes have occurred at such a rate that the generational gap has widened considerably, exacerbating the contrast of eras and the difference in experiences.

Last September, I received in Bordeaux a university team of Kosen Judo composed of more than thirty students and accompaniers. Guests at the Pilat dune and the Gujan-Mestras club for a training followed by a friendly evening, they particularly enjoyed oysters. Volunteer at the opening of these delicious seafood freshly removed from the Bassin d’Arcachon, I found myself around a huge net to talk about judo, refereeing and leg grabbing. When, I pointed out that this prohibition was relatively recent, one of the present competitors replied without hesitation and in a definitive tone: “Me, I never knew this period”. This remark is in line with that of many of my students who are invested daily in federal training centers. I felt it again as the affirmation of a line of demarcation between two entities: the judo of yesterday and that of today. It was not a value judgment, but rather a statement of two distinct realities, two worlds moving apart inexorably.

The evolution of judo is too fast. It does not happen in the continuity but in the break. Long defined as a practice of building personality and body, judo is nowadays seen as an object of consumption and a spectacle sport. The multiplication of championships, the world ranking of athletes in seniors – but also in juniors and cadets -, the widespread attribution of bonuses, transfers of nationality, a professionalism more and more installed … shock those who affect to ignore the reality of a past rich in transgressions of all kinds.

The initial question posed in 1951 by the first president of the IJF, the Italian Aldo Torti, is then updated: “Is judo a sport? “. To discuss the subject without putting each of the terms in the historical perspective of the evolution of societies, lifestyles and sports activities remains vain. What is less so is the perception of a bygone era, it is the segmentation of an activity formerly strong in the coherence of its facets and its educational scope and today assimilated to a commercial product.

The real question is that of the future of judo, the mastery of adaptations and necessary changes but all too often made in haste and the absence of a clear and shared vision. Kano has voluntarily opted for an innovative approach. By “reinventing the martial arts”, the founder of judo solved the difficult equation of reconnecting with tradition while inscribing his method in “the spirit of the times”. Today, however, there is a growing gap between those who favor a stagnation and a classicism ignorant of social change, and those who are indifferent or forgetful of cultural heritage.

Criticism reflects uncertainty and fear, that of the gradual abandonment of a tradition and principles whose implementation rarely exceeds the level of electoral discourse. Like other countries, France continues to play a role in the imbalance between tradition and modernity. Budget allocations prove it. At the international level, the greatest criticism concerns the observed wavering of the definition and application of the refereeing rules. A retreat however is necessary and a historical look is enough to affirm that today there exist real improvements in the matter. Indeed, the time is over for an all-powerful refereeing body defining, on the very morning of the championship and without any consultation, special instructions in the application of certain sanctions. If, at present, the inequality of competence of some referees does not escape the eye of the insiders, nobody can deny that the abusive and scandalously partial decisions which for decades have distorted world or Olympic championships have fortunately disappeared. However, nothing is acquired. What about the collective indignation that for more than half an hour interrupted the fights in Bercy at the world championships in 1997 or the final lost by Clarisse Agbegnenou on an illegal strangulation? The fact that none of these decisions has been reversed is to be borne neither to the credit of the refereeing body nor to that of the governing bodies.

La plume est plus forte que l’épée

My previous remarks on the values ​​of judo have been variously appreciated. Many who have read to me have let me know that they shared the analysis when I mentioned the double language of those who advocate the values ​​of sport, of friendship or even of sharing, of those who rise up against the scourge of doping by denouncing a betrayal of the spirit of sport and judo, but who remain cautiously silent and indifferent to discrimination and ostracism. Others, few in number, have raised themselves as censors, forbidding the diffusion of a text with which they expressed the deepest disagreement. Why then hide a reality known to every attentive observer? What is the purpose? Don’t we see posted in all the dojo of France: “Courage is doing what is right”, “Honor is to be faithful to the word given”? The authoritarian discourse discredits itself.

Previously, I mentioned Seneca: “It is not because things are difficult that we do not dare, it is because we do not dare that they are difficult”. Once again, Marius Vizer dared. In a letter to the Iranian Judo Federation, the President of the IJF gave a good example of political courage. Do not hesitate to pay tribute to a president who defies the prohibitions and whose actions are in keeping with his words.

The Values of Judo in the 21st Century… 2

“It is not because things are difficult that we do not dare, it is because we do not dare that they are difficult,” , Seneca.

The international judo federation has dared. The reasoned but firm attitude of President Marius Vizer has not been unambiguous. The Grand Slam of Abu Dhabi in November 2018 seemed to usher in a new era of concord. Although tempered by the notable absence of many countries at the Tel Aviv Grand Prix, the decisions taken seemed likely to effectively combat any form of segregation resulting from political and religious fundamentalism that has not spared judo since the beginning of the century. 21st century. The 2019 edition of the Paris Grand Slam, however, reminded observers of the harsh reality of systematic oppositions. The road will be long before the actions meet the promises in the fight against discrimination.

Spectators, athletes, but also journalists and coaches posted their surprise at the defeat of Iranian world champion Saeid Mollaei against Ruslan Mussayev, 209th in the world. Defeated in a sham fight after only 17 seconds of fighting, he gets out of the tatami headlong wiping his tears. Asked what appears to many people as the concealed refusal to face the next round of the Israeli Sagi Muki, Marius Vizer recognizes the persistence of a worrying situation.

It’s not a new problem. It is recurrent and tends to amplification. At a time when France denounces the resurgence of anti-Semitic acts, these repeated transgressions to the values ​​of sport and judo in particular must be fought constantly and at all levels at the risk of trivializing such behavior. The scheduled defeats or the last-minute withdrawal of competitors forced – when they are – to submit to the official guidelines were initially ignored or almost tolerated under the pretext of probable retaliation against the athletes and their families. A change of scale occurred in 2004 during the Olympic Games. In a game of fools, the overweight of Arash Miresmaeili -72.4 kg instead of the 66 allowed-was ultimately officially attributed to a health problem and not to the political process and a deliberate and widely publicized refusal to confront an Israeli opponent. Pass. There is nothing to see.

Celebrated as a hero on her return home, recipient of the Olympic Champion Award – $ 115,000 – as well as a special grant to “Strengthen Spirituality in Sport” – a $ 5,000 prize to perform a trip to Mecca, he now occupies an important position in the ministry of sports of his government as evidenced by the interview reported in the magazine Spirit of Judo.

The political and religious convictions of certain combatants are sufficiently displayed to leave no doubt as to the adherence of their actions to the instructions imposed on them. On the other hand, others are under such pressure that they cannot resist the prospect of the direct and indirect consequences that could be devastating for them and for those around them. But, the question remains whole. The world of sport strives to fight against doping by arguing principles of equity. In this area, recent developments show that the institutions and systems concerned, in other words the originators, do not escape sanctions. The fight against exclusion and discrimination requires that we act similarly, that we dare more to defend the values ​​that underpin our discipline.

Michel Brousse

French and international press…

Saeid Mollaei last two fights

Contre Mussayev
Le combat pour la médaille de bronze (et sa blessure)

More details about the “Miraeslaeili case” in « affaire Miresmaeili » in « Ondes de choc, conflits politico-culturels et développement du judo mondial »,research paper inFrench

The Values of Judo in the 21st Century…

” Sport has become the language of the world, a common denominator that breaks walls and barriers … it’s a great tool for progress and development”, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon said in a statement during a ceremony in Geneva, three months before the Rio de Janeiro Olympic Games. The celebration of the spirit of judo at the service of peace and development produces an identical discourse which affirms its supreme ambition in a maxim “mutual aid and mutual prosperity” and in a formula as evocative as it is enigmatic: “judo is more than a sport”.

A first question arises. Should we consider that there are invariant dispositions of human nature that lead to privileging the same values ​​regardless of the difference of epochs and cultural, political and social environments? To adopt this point of view would be to deny the mosaic of currents and specificities constructed over time, to apprehend judo only in an allegedly original and pure form.

The history of judo and its values ​​is made of continuities and breaks. I will only be interested here in the most recent, that of the beginning of the twenty-first century. This choice is justified by two main reasons. The first one is internal. It is linked to profound changes in the direction of world judo. The second one is external. It refers to the place that Judo occupies in its host societies, to the role it plays in practitioners’ daily lives.

The first element of rupture occurred during the 2004 Olympics in Athens. On the morning of the competition the twice Iranian world champion, Arash Miresmaeili, arrives at the weigh-in and the electronic scale displays 72.4 kg, a weight well beyond the limit of 66 kg in his category. Political diktat forbidding the athlete to face an Israeli opponent or health problem that resulted in accidental overweight? The international press seized the case. The whole world suddenly saw another facet of the Japanese method. Like other sports, judo has become an ideological vehicle.

Back in his country, Miresmaeili is treated as a hero and rewarded as an authentic Olympic champion. The cautious reactions or even the duplicity of some of the IFJ members at the time are denounced by the journalists. The suspension imposed on a South Korean coach for violently striking an eliminated athlete accentuates the distance to the education principles so frequently advocated. The time of values is suspended, put in parentheses, like a derisory bastion facing political and economic stakes.

The second element of rupture crops up three years later. It corresponds to the election of a new president of the International Judo Federation. The year 2007 is the beginning of a new era. It marks the alignment of judo on the model of the professional sport organized in circuit of international events putting judo performance in the spotlight.

On the one hand, this political choice results in a radical transformation that has immediate repercussions in all places, at all levels and for the actors of the system. On the other hand, the process accelerates the fragmentation of Kano’s method and its reification. Yesterday, being a judoka referred to a practice whose facets comprised the same entity. Today, judo is subdivided into separate activities aimed at health, personal defense, motor and civic education or sport. These practices appear as so many consumer products offered to practitioners who cohabit without ever meeting.

After having evoked this time of ruptures and the heavy trends of evolution, let us look for a moment at the nature and permanence of the values ​​that fuel the official discourse. By inventing and by promoting judo, Jigoro Kano imposed on the world a new way of fighting. He set in space and time a particular vision of the Japanese intelligentsia of the late nineteenth century. His method was explicitly opposed to traditional styles of combat that did not opt ​​for a reasoned control of physical violence. As soon as they were imported into Western countries, the codes and usages of Japanese art were merged into the sociability registers of those who shared the same vision of man and the world. Mostly from the upper classes, these pioneers were also passionate about the Orient. They became the first to transmit judo culture. By privileging the intelligence, the flexibility and the speed on the expression of the brutal force, the judo that they liked affirmed itself as the most civilized and the most intellectualized of the disciplines of combat. Norbert Elias’s analyzes shed a remarkable light on the role of sport in the social control of violence. The evolution of judo provides us with a very revealing example.

The values ​​conveyed by Japanese art thus appear in a new light. Enriched by a project of social harmony, the principles of “better use of energy” and “mutual aid and mutual prosperity” are part of a positivist approach of modernity and social progress. In contrast to earlier periods, 21st century society is characterized by the rise of individualism which stands in the way of unreserved adherence to the values ​​of judo and its ethics. The competition has plunged the Japanese method into the era of rationality. The sacred has slipped to the profane. The imaginary scenes of the virtues of the East has long been unveiled. The myth of the invincibility of Japanese art is strongly contested by other martial arts. While yesterday’s judo has made generations dream, the current collective representations are divided between the sporting exploits of the elite and the learning games of children in judogi. The heroic figures, the symbols, the founding texts that so seduced the first practitioners gave way to comic characters whose images are stick down paper diplomas.

Initiated in Provence, France, but largely taken over, even plagiarized, the moral code of the French judo as today replaced official morality. Adopted by many national and international bodies, the moral code of judo is nonetheless a reinvented tradition whose main historical basis is a nostalgic reaction to a context considered decadent. The initiative of a person whose idealism, as we know it, is part of a desire to respond to a sports movement that would have removed judo from its virtues and the philosophy of its origins. But, the examination of the retained values, of their number, of their order of presentation, of their definitions … can only lead to a reflection on the function which is implicitly assigned to them.