The draw for the Baku Grand Slam, the third World Judo Tour event since the summer Olympic Games, has taken place today at the Hyatt Regency in Central Baku, Azerbaijan.

Dr Lisa Allan, IJF Events Director, opened proceedings with a sad announcement and offered a moment’s silence in tribute to Elnur Shukurov Ashraf Oglu, Deputy General Secretary, Head of Press & Media Department for The Azerbaijan Judo Federation, “It is with great sadness that we must announce to the judo family the passing of Elnur Shukurov Ashraf Oglu. Our sincere condolences to his family and friends. Please let us take a moment now in his memory.”

Following a short period of quiet reflection, Dr Allan continued with the draw, “Welcome to the draw. I will start by introducing our guests and ask IJF Education Director Mr Mohamed Meridja to say a few words.”

Mr Meridja welcomed everyone, “Dear members of the Azerbaijan Judo Association and all the judo family, welcome to the 7th year of our World Judo Tour event in Baku. On behalf of Mr Vizer I would like to thank the organisers of the event and I wish good luck to all judo competitors and coaches.”

Present to represent the Azerbaijan Judo Federation were Executive Committee member Mr Elkhan Mammadov, Vice President Mr Elnur Mammadli and General Secretary Mr Elmar Babanli.

Mr Babanli offered a welcome from the hosts, “Dear guests and judo family members, we are happy to welcome each of you to Baku again for the 7th edition of the event. Because of the pandemic we postponed the event last year. Thanks to the support of the state authorities and the IJF, we were allowed to organise this prestigious event again and I would like to wish good luck to all participants and great strength to win.”

General Secretary, Mr Elmar Babanli.

Dr Allan continued, “We appreciate the professional support of the local organisers and also the local sponsors. Thank you to everyone for working together, following the rules around the Covid protocols.

You have a responsibility to uphold the integrity of the sport and this event. Any kind of deliberate choice to underperform is competition manipulation and must be reported to us. Anyone caught leaving the bubble will be disciplined. Please let’s work together to keep our judo family safe.

On to organisation matters; there will be three tatami for the preliminaries, beginning at midday on day one and at 1pm on days two and three. The opening ceremony will be at 4pm on day one.”

Then followed a reminder of judogi rules and the allocation of sponsors’ back patches, before IJF Head Referee Director Mr Florin Daniel Lascau spoke to reinforce the idea of working together towards an even more consistently high level, “Dear Executive Committee members and all IJF members, we again bring top referees to ensure the fair officiating of the event.” This idea will be strengthened further when the IJF Refereeing Commission and all of the referees meet prior to the tournament to continue their unified education project. Their session will be mat-based, as has become usual practice on the World Judo Tour.

IJF Head Referee Director, Mr Florin Daniel Lascau

IJF Head Sport Director Mr Vladimir Barta then led the draw itself, “Dear General Secretary, distinguished guests, welcome to the Baku Grand Slam.” Mr Barta offered a statistical breakdown of the event entry and proceeded to conduct the draw for each category.

Dr Allan concluded the draw, “We conclude the draw by wishing you all the best of luck and please keep safe. Thank you.”

With the formalities taken care of we can now turn our focus to the excitement ahead, looking at some of the details of the contests we will enjoy from tomorrow.

With Orujov and Heydarov and Orujov seeded 3 and 4 respectively at -73kg, they will be aiming to meet in the final and produce a rostrum with the top two displaying Azerbaijan’s flag. Both have spoken about the intense feeling to do well at home and neither will give up the chance to win gold easily.

Orujov and Heydarov met in the semi-final of the 2019 World Championships in Tokyo.

At +100kg we can see Rakhimov seeded number 1. It is a great endorsement of judo that we have such diversity as to have Tajikistan in the number one spot at the top of the sheet and as we have discovered in the past, seeding is important and so often produces a podium that supports the system. Rakhimov is not the only unusual top seed here though and across the 14 weight categories 12 countries are represented at the top, with only Germany and Israel having a second top seed in the draw. We will see how many of these national anthems will ring out in the Heydar Aliyev Sport Arena over the weekend.

It’s not possible to cap an exhaustive list of interesting questions but we should take a look at -52kg, including the -48kg Olympic champion, Kosovo’s Distria Krasniqi. She’s back to a weight category in which she was a regular World Judo Tour medal winner, prior to her Olympic gold medal winning cycle at the weight below. But she is not top of the ranking here; that place is reserved for Britain’s Chelsie Giles, winner of an Olympic bronze in Tokyo and someone who has beaten Krasniqi’s forerunner, Kelmendi, on the International stage. In order to reach her though, Krasniqi will have to get past an unknown Japanese judoka in the first round on a path to the final, where Giles plans to meet whoever reaches her.

Watch all of the action on the live stream from midday tomorrow.

See also