Tonino Chyurlia is the secretary of the IJF Referee Commission and also an EJU Referee Commissioner. He is extremely active in world judo, travelling to both IJF World Judo Tour events and EJU events; he’s a very busy man and much in demand. Now 70 years old he has a lifetime of experiences to draw on and every conversation with Tonino is a joy.
Kodokan seminar, 2022.

“I began my judo life when aged 19, in Taranto, Italy. I had some friends already doing judo and they asked why I don’t come too so I said, ‘why not?’ There wasnt much to choose from activity-wise at that time, maybe just weightlifting, boxing or judo locally. It was a small club but a nice one, called Kodokan Taranto. I enjoyed judo there and after some time moved on to Shogun Massafra, 50 km from Taranto.”

51 years in a sport sounds like a long time! “I stayed for 51 years, I think because I am a curious person. Along the way I have continued to learn, focusing on one aspect deeply before moving on to the next. I always want to keep learning and in all these years I have never found a limit to that. There is always one more thing to learn, one more and another and then another. To have such a broad education in a sport I enjoy so much is a good motivation, promoting a good life, an active life.

I started refereeing because when I was at competitions with my club I didn’t always understand the rules. When I competed, I just competed, concentrating on me and so whether I won or lost I didn’t think too much about the rules. When I became a coach, I felt responsible for the athletes and that was different. I didn’t understand enough and I knew I needed to have a better grasp of the rules simply because I had to explain to the judoka why they lose or win. I decided to follow a course and go through the referee examination process. I enjoyed it. I was coaching and refereeing and it was a good life.

The refereein team for the 2005 Cairo World Championships.

For more than 20 years my wife was instrumental in the region too. She was and still is our backbone as a family too, always.”

There is a lot to accommodate for any aspect of a high level judo career. Referees, athletes and coaches all require support or at least the space to do what must be done and so the right home situation is imperative in terms of achieving long term progress, success and happiness.

Celebrating at home with family when selected to refeeree at the Sydney Olympic Games, 2000.

“I refereed at the Sydney Olympic Games and Athens four years later and there have been many world championships, maybe 16 or so when counting the junior events too.

The Munich and Birmingham world championships were special ones. The refereeing team was special and there was so much respect between us. The worlds in Osaka was special too; it’s a special place and with some incredible champions. The Kokodan officials were present and the competition was at an incredibly high level.

I really like to see new situations and new heroes emerge at these big events. I refereed the final in Athens between Iliadis and Gontyuk (UKR) . I believe when I announced the victory for Iliadis, the sports hall almost imploded. It was loud, unbelievable; it felt like an earthquake. It was a fun time! I remember that around the stadium wasn’t fully finished and there were people still pouring cement to plant new trees and other structures.”

Tonino Chyurlia refereing Iliadis' historic Olympic final.

How has judo been one integrated with your everyday life?

“The desire to learn, watching, asking and receiving from people, these ideas are important. I learn from my own personal bad situations and here in judo I learned about friendship, about what it means when you have people believing in you. From bad situations I have always been lucky to find a good route through, a positive experience. From challenging situations I have always been able to avoid just being angry and instead finding a positive way forward. This is the judo way of life. In our personal lives we often have difficulties. Judo and family life have always been so strongly mixed that we all help each other whether the issues are personal or private. It’s not as simple as judo helping my personal life or vice versa because judo IS our personal life. My daughter is also a judo referee, it’s inextricably linked to all of us."

The family together in Montpeileir in 2023 as Roberta Chyurlia is named best European female referee of the year.

"We can talk and think about our tragedies but the conversation always comes back to judo and we recover like the ‘stellar polar,’ the North Star. Judo gives us direction, like the North Star. It is constant.”

What does it mean to have your daughter become an Olympic referee?

I think all fathers and mothers who experienced a child achieving their dreams are the happiest people in the world. Judo gave us this too! It closes the circuit, we are here together. When you are inside this kind of family, it is something different. Imagine being able to share this incredible achievement with our family in this way.” Tonino’s daughter Roberta already referred at the Tokyo Olympic Games in 2021.

“My main sponsor is always my wife, actually she is that for all of us. Erminia is our scaffolding, holding everything together between our crazy travel and our family life. She is always waiting for us at home. This is everything. She is at home but is also our fire and our engine.”


The bottom line for Tonino is that the most important parts of his life in judo are family and learning. The judo family and the family at home have become one and the learning has never stopped. 51 years of judo have already been completed for Tonino Chyurlia and yet we feel there will be many more to come.

See also