During the last school year in September, Mathis, 8, put on his kimono for the first time, proud and impatient to tread the tatami of the dojo in his district of Angers (Maine-et-Loire). Without the Covid epidemic, the little boy would have started judo earlier. “The uncertainty that followed the first confinement slowed us down a bit, says Pierre Dessarte, his dad, himself a former judoka. We didn’t want to pay for a license without being sure that he could practice his sport all year round. Mathis therefore, somewhat reluctantly, chose to resume football until last June.
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Like other martial arts or combat sports such as karate or taekwondo, the closure of dojos in the fall of 2021 has put a huge brake on the practice of judo, “already in decline for ten years, says Sébastien Nolésini, the new general manager of the French Federation of Judo, Jujitsu, Kendo and Associated Disciplines (FFJDA). This recorded a drop of nearly 200,000 licenses at the height of the health crisis in 2021, falling from 512,000 to 315,000 registered in one of the 5,500 clubs.
Despite these difficulties, the former member of the French judo team Stéphane Nomis, elected president of the FFJDA in November 2020, did not resign himself, quickly launching a recovery plan aimed at winning back lost licensees. “We thus quickly committed 1.9 million euros to the territories and clubs, of which we feared that a certain number of them would disappear”, details its general manager. This pandemic has changed habits“offering us the opportunity to rethink ourselves and set ourselves new projects to put in place”, concludes Sébastien Nolésini.
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“In a Fighting Spirit” he too, Laurent Dies, federal technical adviser in Indre-et-Loire, clung to this recovery plan, immediately making himself available to volunteers and coaches, “who have shown their ability to adapt to constraints”he judges, admiringly. “Some clubs have maintained a link with their licensees, making the bold choice to leave their dojo and put their tatamis outside, offering muscle strengthening sessions such as taïso, a method that is practiced a lot in judo. “.
In the department of Indre-et-Loire, the clubs have also opened up new horizons, initiating workshops in nursing homes, while the federal committee has approached a vocational school, accompanying it in its campaign to communication while preparing a major traveling photo exhibition on the transmission of knowledge. “We left the sporting field to turn to new actors that we were not used to soliciting, and thus enhance our qualities and our values”, rejoices Laurent Dies.
“A bit like a Tour de France village”
Next November, the city of Tours will be one of the 20 stages of the “Champions route” operation, welcoming the French team of yesterday and today and bringing together thousands of children. This event was designed by the federation “a bit like a Tour de France village”, compares Sébastien Nolésini, who relies on the power of attraction of the big stars and the new generation of judokas to attract new audiences.
The Tokyo Olympics in particular, marked by the historic gold medal of the Blues in the team competition against the Japanese, “undoubtedly contributed to the rebound of the discipline, even if the impact is difficult to measurecontinues Sébastien Nolésini. During the Olympics, judo was the sport most followed by the French, with more than 18 million views. At the same time, the FFJDA launched the “1,000 dojos” program, to set up new equipment in deprived areas, in the suburbs or in rural areas, in Nanterre and Mayenne..
And, because more than 70% of the licensees are under eleven years old, the leaders of French judo have taken it into their heads to get closer to the national education system, developing the “Judo at school” program from the start of the next school year with the hope of strengthening “the territorial imprint of the discipline» and to encourage the youngest to practice sport. A policy of openness which has borne fruit since the start of the 2021 school year. Although competitions have not yet returned to pre-crisis attendance levels, particularly among 14-16 year olds, the rebound in the number of licensees has operated everywhere in France, with 44% of new registrants among the 453,000 licenses listed in early May. The FFJDA has set itself the goal of once again reaching the threshold of 500,000 practitioners by the 2024 Paris Olympics.
A fine harvest of medals at the last European Championships
Winning three titles, two silver medals and three bronze at the European Championships which took place in Sofia (Bulgaria) from April 29 to May 1, the Blues confirmed their domination on the continental scene. The extraordinary new generation of judokas won seven of the eight tricolor medals. By dismissing the Portuguese Catarina Costa in the – 48 kg final, Shirine Boukli, 23, offered the first tricolor victory to Sofia, quickly followed by Marie-Ève Gahié, who won her first European title in – 70 kg and by Romane Dicko, crowned for the third time in her career at + 78 kg. These female successes compensate for the disappointment among men. In the absence of the usual executives, including Teddy Riner, only Cédric Révol (– 60 kg) returned from the European championships with a bronze medal.