Sunday 22, April

Ripping up the rule book -- how judo reinvented itself for 2018

Judo, as has become customary, marked the start of a new year by issuing the latest changes to its code of dos and don'ts.

They are alterations that have left some fans frustrated. One Twitter user posted "please don't change the rules for a while," while a Facebook commentator described the latest tweaks as "a terrible change."

But former world champion and two-time Olympic medalist Neil Adams believes the ongoing rule changes have made judo "the best it's ever been."

Adams contends the International Judo Federation (IJF) has acted to prevent judo becoming too similar to traditional wrestling, particularly given the Olympic Games already has Greco-Roman and freestyle wrestling events.

Over the years, slowly but surely, the rules have been altered to the betterment of the sport, according to Adams, although he accepts that it has divided judokas along stylistic lines.

"Obviously the wrestlers weren't happy but it's appealed to the traditionalists, who have embraced it," he tells CNN. "Of course, you'll never get everyone agreeing 100% but these have for the most part been changes for the better.

"With the breakdown of the Soviet Union, there was a growth in the number of different wrestling styles coming into judo.

"The International Olympic Committee were a little bit concerned that it already had freestyle and Greco-Roman wrestling, and they didn't need another one.

"The initial changes stopped that and what it effectively did was ensure the sport's Olympic future."

Vladimir Barta, the head sport director at the International Judo Federation, admitted distancing judo from wrestling was part of the ongoing push to change the rules, although he says there were no external influences on the IJF.

"We never felt any pressure from the IOC concerning judo in the Olympic program. In fact, we have even more now - for the first time judo will have a mixed team event in the Olympic Games in 2020," he said.

Barta also argues the thinking was to increase the intensity of a contest, encouraging scoring rather than tactics and encouraging judoka to go on the offensive.

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Tokyo target

Of the latest resultant changes for 2018 -- brought into place to ensure they are well and truly part of the sport in time for the Tokyo Olympics in two years' time -- the biggest is to Waza-ari scores.

A Waza-ari is awarded when a judoka pins their opponent for more than 10 seconds but fewer than 20 seconds, or executes a successful throw without the full force or control to merit Ippon.

Under the changes, there has been a reversion back to the old rule where two Waza-aris equate to Ippon, a move which ends the contest between two judoka.

In recent years, players could keep on racking up Waza-aris without the contest being ended. Now, Waza-ari will also be awarded for inferior throws previously deemed worthy of Yuko -- the third highest score in judo.

Of that modification, Adams says: "I thought personally the way it was with Waza-aris was pretty exciting but a lot of coaches and fighters felt differently and so that rule is back by popular demand. The International Judo Federation can't be accused of not listening to feedback as it's reacted to that."

Adams had a key role to play in those changes within the Referees' Commission, as the IJF looks to make sure the new rules are embraced and refereed in the same way across the board globally.

As part of the changes, contests will no longer be ended by penalty scores (shidos) in Golden Score.

The alterations have been made, according to IJF president Marius L. Vizer, to "make our sport a modern one, outstanding and understandable for everyone."

He added: "I'm convinced the new elements of the rules and judo method will be a great benefit for the judo family, spectators, partners and media."

And if Adams is to be believed, the previous changes have already improved judo as a spectator sport.

"Another big thing behind it [the changes] is rewarding positivity and not negativity," he adds. "Referees, coaches and players know that negativity is punished.

"Imagine the frustration of watching a football match where one team just defends and doesn't do anything else. It's not great to watch. In judo, the rules are done to make sure such negativity doesn't happen.

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"People always go for the path of least resistance and, with the way the rules were previously, people could be coached to win by the easiest way possible and that was negatively. The changes have altered that, and it's certainly better from a spectator's point of view."