Before his arrival, the popularity of judo in its biggest market – Japan – had been waning. In France, its secondary market, it wasn’t a widely viewed or appreciated activity. So Vizer fearlessly swept aside the concerns of the traditionalists – mostly from Japan – who resisted change, pushing through an ambitious publicity plan. Now, according to the IJF communications officer Nicolas Messner, the last judo world championships were shown live in 130 territories worldwide; quite an impressive spread.
Before Vizer’s reign, previous president Park Yong-Sung had already introduced blue judo suits ( judogi), aimed at making the sport more attractive and understandable to television audiences. Rather than a whir of two bodies, draped in white, flying through the air, now one fighter wears blue and the other white, making identification easier and the sport more accessible for spectators.
Vizer has made his own changes. He’s done away with one of the four scores awarded for a successful technique, changed the style of the scoreboards to make them clearer to the layman and also, perhaps most significantly, banned techniques that resemble wrestling.
Whereas previous modifications had brought consternation from traditionalists at the Kodokan – the home of judo in Japan – this latter rule change was greeted warmly. By purging judo of the leg-grabs, dropping and sacrificial techniques popular in wrestling – a style dominated by Russians, Iranians and Caucasian countries – pure, classical judo has been allowed to flourish once again. And there are none better than the Japanese when it comes to performing the oldest throws, those preferred by Kano himself.
It has also made for more spectacular and attacking judo, something that has pleased television executives. According to Messner, at the 2009 world championships in Rotterdam, 35 per cent of fights ended in a move called ippon, the equivalent of a boxing knockout. “That figure had risen to 60 per cent last year at the Paris Worlds,” Messner adds. “In some categories it was as high as 75 to 80 per cent. The Japanese have benefitted as they can do their style of judo again. It’s attacking, it’s spectacular. Techniques that had disappeared have reappeared.”
So the sport of judo is changing yet again. But this time, both the modernisers and the traditionalists seem to be content. Vizer may just have managed to find a happy medium.
Article originally appeared in Play magazine.