This is the Judo blog of Lance Wicks. In this blog I cover mainly Judo and related topics. My Personal blog is over at where I cover more geeky topics. Please do leave comments on what you read or use the Contact Me form to send me an email with your thoughts and ideas.

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BJA Failing athletes, Part two. 

Good morning all,

I am sat here watching the Rugby world cup and the Mongolian Judo World Cup and felt the need to follow up on my previous post about the British teams performance at the 2011 World Championships.

The Mongolian World Cup is weak, numbers-wise at least. Being immediately after the world championships many athletes do not attend. Which to me means it is an ideal event to attend if you need to chase points for the ranking list; which helps seeding.

I was sure I had written about how the British team last year didn't attend and I thought that was a mistake. As I do this year also.

But I was unable to find a blog post immediately that said that. What I did find is this post: ... 901-170802

Which I wrote after the 2009 Word Championships. If you don't fancy reading it, just read my post from this years world championships and swap 2011 for 2009. In other words, the concerns I raised in 2009 I am raising again in 2011. They have not been addressed.

Interestingly one of the first snippets that caught my eye was a 2009 quote from Margaret Hicks saying that the British team was "...on the right track...” in the build-up to the London Olympics.

Later in the post I wrote:

"What worries me is that British Judo is on a path, one that is failing to show signs of light. It is getting worse, performing at lower levels than in the past. Remember those stats from above, this is the worst performing team in the last 3 world championships."

So how hell are we in 2011 and the situation is nearly identical. Another terrible World Championships, another "worst performance".

I think Margaret Hicks was right in one area at least, British Judo is on a track, a path. But not the right one! They are on the wrong train, going the wrong way... fast!

To me, the most obvious thing in the world for the BJA and UK SPort is to change direction. The great genius that was Albert Einstein is attributed with the following quotation "Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results."

It is "insane" for British Judo to continue with the current path and the current performance management team. The time is now to change direction, to remove Hicks, Roux and Bridge from post and to see what can be salvaged in time for the biggest sporting event in British History.

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BJA Failing Athletes. 

On August 23rd through 29th the World Judo Championships were held in Paris. The event was an amazing success with big Ippons and great atmosphere, if you were not there you were able to follow the action via live Internet video stream or on TV in some countries.

However, as a member of the British Judo Association (BJA), the event was a disaster! And although being "sworn off" criticizing the BJA, I am going to post today about the disaster in the hope that it makes a difference. And to be frank with you, to vent the rage that I feel.

The rage is because I feel strongly that the system is failing the athletes. This upsets me immensely as for the athletes, this is their whole world, their lives, what makes them; them. This people are choosing to pursue Judo rather than wives, kids, careers, normal lives. They sweat, they hurt, they get injured and for what? Not for the money that is clear. The fame? Not likely in the UK. So it upsets me when I see talented dedicated young athletes not succeeding in a period where British Judo has more resources at it's disposal than ever before and more resources than most of their competition.

In simple terms, the performance of the British team is the worst since 1969, 42 years ago! (Bob over at ... ad-is-bad/ has all the numbers).
By "poor performance", I am using medals as the criteria. As Bob shows in his post, this is the first World Championships since 1975 that Great Britain has not brought back a medal.

And this is not with a bunch of newbies, many of the team are seasoned veterans making their final run at an Olympic Games. You have athletes who have won world medals, world cup medals, even some who have made top 5 at the Olympics. Yet in Paris they failed worse than ever before… why? and who is to blame?

Below are my views on this:

1. Don't blame the athletes!
Not a single athlete on the team went to Paris not wanting to win. If anyone blames the athletes I'll argue with them till I turn blue in the face. There are plenty of people to point the finger at, but the players are not the right people to blame.

2. Who is responsible + Who is to blame?
Two different questions, the responsible individuals are those whose role is to deliver performance. The individuals to blame are those who have not created good performance. There is a difference.

3. What now?
As I have stated in earlier posts and is even more of a issue now, we are less than a year from the Olympics. There is little time to do anything. So should we change anything? Tough call. And if we have the urge to make changes, what to do?!?!

But lets go back to who is responsible and who is to blame first.

Who is Responsible for the BJA's poor performance in Paris?
This may seem like a tough question, but in fact is probably the easiest question to answer. A 10 second browse of the BJA's website gives the answer ( ... 6&y=14 ).

The person responsible is Margaret Hicks (Performance Director), her role in the organization is to deliver elite performance. No matter what anyone says, her primary role is to build an environment that delivers success and Paris was not a success, so she has failed.

Second on the list would be Patrick Roux (GB Head Coach), his salaried job is to coach the athletes with his team and deliver success. Again Paris was a disaster so he has failed.

Below this we get down to lower level management and support staff. They are not "responsible" for the overall failing to perform. if we discuss them it is in the context of blame and not responsibility. As stated above, those responsible for the situation (IMHO at least) are the Performance Director and Head Coach.

To be clear, at this point of the post, I am not saying that either individual has done anything wrong. All I am saying is that it was/is their responsibility to deliver success and the facts show they have failed to do this.

Obviously, given the scale of the failure in Paris and leading up to Paris; those with responsibility (named above) need to consider their positions and if they are the problem. More on that later.

Blame… lets point some fingers!
So, for me formal responsibility lies squarely at the feet of Margaret and Patrick. But that is just saying that the post they hold is responsible. They may be brilliant at what they do and their only failing is in having a team that did not do their jobs.

The obvious targets I predict taking the blame are the athletes.

This I think is wrong and to be honest, cowardly and naive if it happens. Sure, each athlete has responsibility for their own performance and every single one of them will know in their minds and hearts that they did things wrong, thats why they did not win.
But, they are responsible for only a single players performance, their own. You can not blame the athletes for the collective failure. The -48kg player has no responsibility for the +100kg athletes failure.

And lets just reflect on those two players…

-48kg was… nobody.
+100kg was… nobody.

Great Britain in the final World Championships prior to London2012 did not have athletes in either category! Why? Can we assume then that in London GB won't fill those categories either?
Paris was a huge experience for any athlete, a great preparation to the pressure they'll be under in London, but there are british athletes who did not have the opportunity to learn from that experience.
Again, this is not something the players themselves decided, or are responsible for.

The players are not the bad guys/girls here. They are all fallible and all failed to win medals. Which contributed to the overall failure. But they are only responsible for a small part of the overall failure. They are also the ones fighting injured and giving it all they can. Take a quick look at who is going in for surgery from the Paris team and tell me they did not give it all they had!

Don't blame the talent, they don't deserve to be dumped on.

If it was a single athlete who failed, sure leap on them and tear them apart. But the entire team failed, so for me this is a sign that the system is at fault not the players. The athletes are awesome but victims of the system, they can only do what they can do.

So… blame the system.

I kinda spoiled the surprise, in the previous paragraph, but I blame the system that the BJA has put in place. And I do so because the failure is so comprehensive across the team. If it had just been the men or just the women, or just the Scots or just the English then maybe we could attribute blame differently.

But no, it was failure across the board. In a centralized system that means for me, the people running the system are to blame. So for me not only does responsibility but blame also falls on the BJA High Performance Directorate management and staff.

Pointing to specific failures or assigning blame specifically is tougher and to be not fair on the individuals. Nor would it be useful. And it's like pulling at a thread on a piece of clothing, it just creates a mess and does not fix the problem.

But let me be clear, the performance director, head coach and other members of the directorate to larger or lesser degrees have failed the athletes and the BJA. The blame is squarely with them.
There are good people in the directorate, there are people trying to do good work and I don't want to attack them.

I hold desperately onto the belief that everyone in the directorate has their heart in the right place and that they are all trying to do the best job possible. But on the whole it is amazingly hard to believe.
Almost worse is the idea that these people are doing the best they can. This would be worse as it means they are incompetent and incapable of doing the task set them. And to make it worse, it means they don't realize they are not capable of getting the job done, which is very sad.

If however, they are competent, then why the hell are they not getting the job done?

As the old saying goes "damned if they do, damned if they don't". Either they are incompetent and incapable of getting the job done. Or they are competent and incapable of getting the job done. which one is worse??

I worry also that the IJF changes will also be blamed. The two person per weight, quarter final repecharge, etc. These are variables that have been on the radar for a while now. They have been in place for some time and every other country has the same situation. Blaming these changes is making excuses nothing more.

Of course no blame session would be complete without going higher up and looking at the board of directors, the CEO and staff of the BJA. Not to mention the culture of Judo in the UK and how it all contributes to the failure in Paris.

Paris came at the end of a period of fairly public turmoil at BJA HQ. Sorry…. thats right there was no problem, the deletion of threads and eventual closing of the forum proved that. As did the letter to all clubs from the chairman explaining everything was fine. The departure of key staff was unrelated I am sure, nor the new posts suddenly created/advertised.

The BJA is an odd odd beast, all of those who deal with it know that. It is inconsistent, larger than can be believed and treats those who actually deliver it's "product" surprisingly poorly.

The prevailing breeze is not fresh, but smells of discontent and frustration.

So perhaps whilst looking at blame, we need to consider if the performance directorate have been able to do their jobs? Perhaps the prevailing culture in the BJA and the climate within the organisation/business at BJA HQ is causing the problem? Or at minimum contributing to the problems?

One has to think that the BJA HQ and the current atmosphere within British Judo has contributed to the failures of the performance directorate. The poor level of coach education and CPD is not helping. The lack of robust competition structure perhaps is stunting development. Perhaps clubs feeling that each letter with a BJA logo on it is more work is not great. Maybe it's just the constant moving of goal posts as funding pools are chased. Or maybe it's all just grown too big for the clubs that are happy being hobbies rather than sports clubs.

so way too much to cover when it comes to who to blame. For me it is much easier and safer to look at responsibility and in that case it is clear that the BJA High Performance Directorate staff have failed in their duties.

Which leads me to what to do…

The obvious next step for me is that those who have failed to deliver what they are salaried to deliver should no longer hold those positions. Either they could do the "honorable thing" or BJA should step in and fire them.

At a minimum, Margaret Hicks and Patrick Roux should go. Personally, I think Jane Bridge should also go as the partnership between her and Patrick is such a close one. But in terms of job titles, she might survive the axe.

of course this leaves a big hole in the directorate and I do not know who could fill the posts. There is not in my view a clear candidate to be performance director within British Judo. Perhaps someone from another sport could be brought in till an expert could be identified and employed.

The other obvious choice is Karen Roberts, who is currently the Performance Operations Manager and on the whole well regarded.

Head Coach is easier to fill. You either shift existing BJPI coaches up the tree or get one of the coaches on the periphery in post. By this I mean Luke Preston, Juergen Klinger or Billy Cusack.

I think the most realistic actions are:

1. Margaret, Jane and Patrick resign with some dignity or are fired.
2. Karen Roberts becomes interim Performance Director
3. Darren Warner and Kate Howey become Mens and Womens interim coaches respectively.

You will notice I do not include Go Tsunoda in the mix there, purely as he is a part-time employee only. But perhaps he could be made full-time and become head coach?

Also I do not factor in people like Luke Preston, Juergen Klinger or Billy Cusack taking on the role. This is because the most realistic actions for me are to cull the failed leadership and then let the organizational tree fill the positions left open.

In the long-term the BJA would need to re-assess it's strategy and structures for performance and make structural and staff changes (hiring and firing) as appropriate.

None of the above is good for British Judo, especially in the context of London2012. Radical change as we come into the final stretch, not text book.
That said, we need to consider that the performance indicators (medals) show that we are on a losing path already, so what is the worst that could happen? We go along a similar path and repeat the Paris performance in London2012?
if we make changes now, then perhaps from the ashes something of a phoenix will rise and London2012 does not become a the disaster for British Judo that it looks to be at this point.

As for you the reader, what can you do?

Very little is the honest answer. My suggestion is that you apply what little pressure you can via you voice. I recommend writing a letter to the BJA HQ and copying it to UK Sport asking for answers and action.
I for example have asked my county committee to write a letter to BJA HQ, copied to BJA Southern Area and UK Sport; we shall see if they vote in favor of sending such a letter.
There is of course also your MP if you enjoy writing letters.

Sadly the reality is that we are little fish in the ocean and that there is little we can do, but at least if you do something you can sleep with clear conscience knowing you at least voiced your concerns and nobody can come back later and say "but you didn't say anything".

To close, I would like to express once more that I do not blame the athletes for this failure. They I have all the respect in the world for, it is thinking about them that raises the fire in my chest and makes me write critical posts like this one.

I should also state that the comments above are not aimed at the individuals in question as individuals, rather as the holders of posts in an organization. I appreciate that they will see this as a personal attack, and that hurts (vie experienced it and it is horrible).

However, the lives of young athletes are being ruined by the current situation and that for me takes priority of the hurt feelings of those silly enough to listen to my outbursts.

I would ask anyone who reads this post to put themselves in the shoes of one of the British players and feel the heart ache as they pour their bodies and entire lives into being athletes and the system fails them.

Feel that pain for a moment then decide if I am being unreasonable calling for those who are responsible for ruining these young athletes lives to be removed from their positions.

All comments welcome in the comments here or via email to

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Video refereeing in Judo. 

Hi everyone, it's been a while since I blogged and I must return to the discipline of blogging regularly. I am a firm believer in blogging as a form of reflective practice, so I am not maintaining this side of my coaching if I do not blog.

As those who follow me will know, I have recently started working as part of the EJU and IJF computer teams. This has allowed me the opportunity to observe some elite level Judo up close. This blog post is about the CARE refereeing system in Judo.

For those of you who don't know, CARE is the name given to video refereeing process now in use in Judo. It basically is a video camera connected to a laptop, which the referees commission (off the mat) are able to use to rewind and review action on a mat.
Unlike other sports like Rugby Union, Cricket and Tennis; the use of the CARE system is entirely at the discretion of the referees commission.

Which means that the commission is able to review and change decisions on the mat whenever they see the situation arise. It is quite a difference in approach to that of other sports where video refereeing is quite limited in scope and application.

In Judo, what we are seeing is the referee sing commission re-watching a piece of action then telling the referee(s) on the mat to change scores, give penalties, etc.
On video perhaps it is not apparent this happens, but in person it is more obvious. What you miss often on the video is the fact that all the referees have earpieces connected to radios so that they can hear what the commission has to say.

Now... Overall, I think this change is good. Instead of three referees on the mat watching a piece of action once at full speed, a group of high level referees watch the action in slow motion several times and inform the referees on the mat what they think.
For the players in the competition this should I think, mean that they receive a better standard of refereeing, the inevitable errors all referees make can be caught and corrected.

However, I think it is worth looking at the situation carefully and consider all the perspectives.

One of the key things I am seeing is that the dresses on the mat are being over-ruled by the commission regularly. And they are being over-ruled when the commission see fit.
This is quite different to other sports, for example in cricket the use of the video umpire is only done when a team chooses to. And there are limited numbers if challenges allowed. Tennis I think uses a similar system where Hawkeye is only called upon when there is a request from a player. In Rugby union, the video is only used at the request of the referee on the field and is only allowed to answer specific quests from the referee on the field.

Judo, from what I have seen, is the only sport where the referees on the mat are now being controlled by the video referee. I am not sure I am comfortable with this. Although I think it should and probably is providing a better level of refereeing consistency, I find it disquieting that the man/woman in charge... the centre referee is in fact no longer in charge, but can and regularly is being what to do by the commission.

In a sport where respect for the referee is drummed into us all, from day one; it seems almost disrespectful to referees that they do not have the final say any longer.

I am also inclined to recall one of the University of Bath Judo Debates, where Marian Woodward, an IJF referee argued against video refereeing. She pointed out very eloquently that sometimes watching a piece of action over and over makes the correct decision harder not easier.

Here is a link to the debate on the topic of if the use of video should be used form 2007: ... ebate.html

I tend to agree, especially when we watch action in slow motion on video, it can look very different to at real speed up close. Sometimes the gut reaction from an experienced referee on the mat is IMHO better than the opinion of a group of referees off the mat watching a small incident over and over in slow motion. It I think runs the risk of missing the con ext of the match and focussing on the minutiae rather than the total fight and the atmosphere and actions leading up to an incident.

Time will tell, but currently my thinking is that the CARE system needs some review. I think it is raising the overall consistency/quality of refereeing of matches. But I do also believe it is undermining the position of the referees on the mat and providing some quirky refereeing that is hard to follow.

Which brings me neatly to my final point on refereeing as I am seeing it. Especially with the radio intervention of the referees commission the refereeing decisions can be a complete mystery to the players, coaches and spectators. I do feel that we could benefit from watching football/soccer and football referees and developing some communication between referees and players on the mat; and the coaches/spectators. I know it is tough with our multiple-lingual sport, but I do feel that referees could make Judo flow better with a few simple words rather than giving Shido that alter the nature of a match.
If a player is being passive, why must we stop the fight to tell them that with the twirling of hands. Could the referee not tell the player they are being passive and that they will be given Shido if they don't do something soon? You here this sort of discussion in rugby, boxing, football, so why not Judo?

I think this is especially important at lower levels. At kids tournaments I think it is unacceptable for any child to be given Shido (or worse) without some good warnings and explanation from referees.
If a kid is grabbing the trousers, they need to be told not to. If they do it again, stop the fight and warn them clearly, using words, that it is not permitted. If they do it again, well penalize them, they knew better.
But don't just spot a leg grab and hansokumake someone, who most likely either has no idea about the complexities of the latest interpretations of the IJF rules, or simply didn't realize they even did it.

A little conversation during the match, would prevent lots of matte situations and make Judo flow more in the match. It could result in less Shido and less fights being one via penalties and more being won by throws.

I'd love to know what you think, especially if you are a referee. Drop comment on this post, or send me an email to

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Reflections on my First EJU Championships 

I am sitting here in my my backyard typing this after returning last night from the 2011 European Judo Championships in Istanbul. It was and incredible trip and I wanted to spend sometime thinking and reflecting on it and post it here.

The championships were amazing! Watching the very top players in Europe up close and in person was something I will never forget. The teams event on the final day was mind blowing and trust me you'll be seeing more of that format of competition!

But, thats getting ahead of myself. Let me start at the beginning…

I flew out in the company of Sheldon Franco-Rooks, the main commentator for the EJU. This was great as it meant there was someone who knew how things worked with me. Sheldon is a great character and made me feel immediately comfortable from when we spoke on the phone and from when we met at Heathrow.

On arrival in Istanbul, we were ferried to the hotel by mini-bus, well at least we were after my research poster for the EJU Research symposium finally was found and given to me.

In Istanbul thinks get a little blurrier, mainly because it was non-stop! The IT team arrive before the event and setup all the computerized scoreboards, CARE system for refereeing replays and the computers that run the draws. And that does not include the video streaming hardware and software. There are cases and cases of cameras, cables, computers and assorted bits and pieces that all need to be unpacked, tested, installed, tested, tested again and tested once more.

The night before the competition, the entire computer team along with some other members of the Turkish Judo Federation and EJU worked till past 5am to get everything Just so. We literally got back to the Hotel with just enough time to shower, change, grab breakfast and be back at the venue of the competition for 9am.

More testing, last minute problems led up to the competition getting underway. But the team is very professional and everything went smoothly enough. There are always small hiccups (people unplugging cameras, or damaging cables at the last minute for example), components breaking and of course Windows blue screens of death.

The competition itself was great, some terrific battles and I can't express quite how much more of an impact it makes if you are actually there rather than watching from home.
And speaking of which; the EJU stream all their big events live to the internet. Pretty forward thinking I have to say. They now stream all the mats in separate streams as well as having an HD commented channel. Along with this the software running the draws and the scoreboard is all interconnected and publishes immediately to the web as well. So everything is going live and thousands upon thousands of people are following it all.

I think my highlights were finally seeing Iliadis in action and Teddy Riner. Those of you who watched the stream might like to know that on the day of the heavy weights I was on the mat edge with the camera so all the footage you see of Teddy fighting in the preliminary rounds is my shaky hands! And yes he is huge in person!

The highlight I think most people attending would say would be the teams competition on the final day. The five person team format is exciting to watch and throws up lots of uncertainty and tactics as well as some great fights. The biggest match was perhaps the Turkish Womens team vs the Russian womans team. The Turkish team won it in the end and the noise from the local crowd during that bronze medal match was unbelievable!
The second highlight was the gold medal round in the mens category when Teddy Riner lined up against Ilias Illiadis and for a moment the whole place stopped and held it's breath thinking that possibly the two biggest name in European Judo were going to fight despite Iliadis being -90kh and Riner +100. Then winks were exchanged, both athletes laughed, smiled and embraced and Riner won by default as Greece had decided not to fought the last man.
The phoos on the EJU website tell it all. What a great moment, the photo of the two of them smiling is now my computer desktop as it really carries an important message about Judo I think.
THAT was sportsmanship, camaraderie and respect captured in a wonderfully humorous moment between two athletes.

During the championships two other important things were happening in the stadium. There was the 2nd EJU Research Symposium and also the EJU Coaching degree students were there doing various roles as part of there course. For me this was great as I participated in the symposium with my poster on the experiment I have been running on an alternative ranking system for elite Judo.
And if you have been following this blog you will know that I was one of the first cohort of EJU coaching degree students and am currently studying for the EJU Level 6 Masters degree. So it was great to see the students in the hall. I wish when i had been in there position the course had held one of it's modules at an elite tournament like that. It is a terrific innovation for the course I think.

At this point I should return to the video stream for a little while. What I have not mentioned is that the EJU managed to sell the TV rights for the competition to over 100 countries. So there was a live feed from the stadium to 100 countries for television coverage of the finals block each day. This was over and above the stream which is watched all over the world via the internet.
What it did mean however is that Shelden and Annett the main commentators were suddenly required to commentate the finals block for the TV networks. Meaning that I was asked to step into the breach and commentate the finals block for the internet stream along with Densign WHite the chairman of the BJA, EJU SPorts Director and a fellow graduate of the EJU Coaching degree (we were in the same year).
Commentating like this was completely unexpected and hard hard hard! Nerves definitely made day one tough, but I like to think I got better day by day and hopefully put in acceptable performances.
It was a fantastic experience and I am immensely flattered to have been allowed to represent the EJU in that way. Pretty unreal for a ginger lad from a small non EJU country like New Zealand.

Surrounding all this was a blur of anther things, meeting athletes officials, presidents and fixing things that went wrong. Having meals with members of the EJU and generally being led from place to place until managing to collapse on my bed at the end of each and every exciting and exhausting day!

Working with the EJU computer team and attending the event has I think been a real highlight, if not the highlight of my Judo career. To met such a group of people and be able to be part of it at a great elite event has me pinching myself still.
I am immensely grateful to all the people who made it possible for me to attend and contribute where I could. I would like to thank them all individually here, but would be horrified if I missed one name out by accident so would rather thank them all as a team!

I have to say I don't know if I have met a team that work so hard, so long or made me feel so welcome and made me laugh so much in my life!


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Istanbul here I come. 

Tomorrow I fly out to Istanbul on what is an exciting new adventure in my Judo career. I am going to Istanbul as part of the European Judo Union (EJU) Computer/commentary team.

This is a bit exciting for me and nerve-wracking too.

For those of you who are new, or perhaps are not aware. The EJU now stream all top level events live onto the internet. It's internet TV of all the big events. This week the EJU hosts the 2011 European Judo Championships and they will be streaming it live (for free) with me as part of the team doing commentary on the fights.

I try to watch as much of the streams as I can normally, but being on the camera is something new for me. And at such a big event too. I am rerally excited about it and have been waiting for someone to pinch me as it seems unreal to be part of the EJU team!

The stream will be available via the EJU website of course ( ) and I would like to invite anyone reading this to to watch the stream when the event is on later this week.

I'll be there with my laptop and picking up emails etc, so if you have any comments, questions or criticisms to make please let me know. My email is or if you do the twitter thing I am @lancew on twitter.

I hope I manage to do a good job you will have to be the judge of that.

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