Back in March we spoke with the Pan-American continental union President, Carlos Zegarra Presser, about the many projects being rolled out in South America, particularly those designed to facilitate equal access for women, for children from different backgrounds, for people from all nations and economic situations, to be able to enjoy sport and to see a route to progress both on and off the tatami.

At that time Mr Zegarra Presser said, “As part of our conscious effort to ensure equal access, I have been working on a project called the Mini-Prix, for children, like a grand prix. It’s a festival where everyone takes medals. Children can fight and train and learn, boys and girls together. It will run in Lima as an international format for the first time this year. It’s a new brand. It’s a gender equality format with volunteers and families all together. Many people say it’s not a regular competition, with boys and girls fighting each other, unusually, so how can you catch talent? Over time though, through this format and schools projects, we have started to identify those who are reaching for the higher level. First they must enjoy judo, every time! This format shows boys and girls have the same opportunities to practise and compete.”

PJC President Carlos Zegarra Presser, Judo Peru mascot Kumi and some of the Mini-Prix participants

Now, 4 months later, the plan has been realised and in Lima just this week, the Mini-Prix went ahead with scores of children taking part, more than 200, in fact. The event was enhanced by senior athletes volunteering as referees, by mascots entertaining the youngest children and by the PJC President himself getting involved on the tatami.

Valentine Paire Ficout from the PJC Education Commission was thrilled with the many outcomes, explaining that the Mini-Prix was actually just one part of a week long festival of judo in Lima. “From 14th to 16th July we hosted the Pan-American Championships for the -13 and -15 age categories and also, on the last day, the Mini-Prix, just as Carlos Zegarra Presser imagined it. The first two days were for the continental championships for these younger athletes and that included a mixed team event.

Pan-American -13 Mixed Team Championship medallists, 2023

This was an international competition of course but we really focused on the mixed element of the mixed team event. There are many old rivalries between countries in judo around the world and we have our own here in South America, for example, between Peru and Chile. However, for this event teams were made from athletes from different nations and Peruvian and Chilean judoka fought side by side with the coaches from both nations cheering for all the athletes. It was really special.

Each team was named after an Olympic Games rather than a single nation. The atmosphere was just as you would expect for a team event but had an extra layer of emotion that I think came out of this unifying format.”

On day 3, 16th July, the Mini-Prix took place with children aged 3 to 15 taking part, youngsters from Ecuador, Mexico, Costa Rica, Chile and Peru. Boys and girls were matched by approximate age and size and fought with great spirit.

2023 Mini-Prix

"Kumi, a Peruvian puma, is our mascot and was present throughout. During Covid we followed Kumi-led exercise programmes online, keeping children engaged during that difficult time and so there is a special attachment to Kumi in Peru. This character really helped to maintain focus and so for the young competitors it really means something; Kumi is always present at events for younger judoka.”

Kumi played a big part in the Mini-Prix

With the Mini-Prix and the youngest divisions of the PanAm Championships complete, 19th July was the opening day of the world ranking events. Cadets from 6 countries fought in the Lima Pan-American Cadet Cup.

20th July will see the juniors take to the tatami, before the Lima Pan-American Open completes this extraordinarily inclusive festival on 22nd and 23rd July. Those two days will see senior judoka from 25 nations compete for medals, ranking points and kudos, with several Olympians and World Judo Tour medallists attending.

Congratulations to Judo Peru and to the PJC for staging a remarkable series of events. The junior and senior tournaments can be followed online via JudoTV; just select from the list in the ‘Events’ section to see all draws, contests and statistics.

All photos courtesy of Judo Peru.

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