The emotion was palpable in the words of Roberto Ibáñez, the President of the Ecuadorian Judo Federation, whom we met on the first day of the Guayaquil World Judo Championships Juniors, organised from 10th to 14th August 2022.
From left to right: Jose Humberto Rodriguez, Roberto Ibáñez and Carlos Zegarra

"It's really a mix of positive emotions. This morning, when the children in the audience sang the countdown of the seconds that were scrolling on the big screen, my heart was pounding. We all dreamed of one day being here but suddenly in a few seconds everything became more real than ever. I was so happy."

To get there, President Ibáñez spared no effort, "We have 120 people working on this championship. This is something! It took us more than a year of planning, with a big acceleration in recent weeks, to welcome the participants. All this has been possible thanks to the permanent communication that we have established with the IJF. For everything to work properly, I asked my team to follow a precise rule: listen and learn, then act. I think it was a good decision because we didn't have the knowledge needed to host such an event and we had to work a lot. I'm happy to be part of this great adventure. It's crazy to see that even non-judoka in Ecuador ask us how we succeeded. The answer is simple, that it was teamwork and a long learning process at all levels."

Roberto Ibáñez was not always the president of the national federation, "When I was a coach, we always had to travel to participate in international competitions. Although we were physically and technically ready, we weren’t mentally. You know, when you come from Ecuador and find yourself competing in a world championship in a huge stadium on the other side of the world, suddenly you become very small again. Here, I asked my athletes to consider themselves as the hosts of these championships. Some may lose quickly but they will remain the patrons of this global celebration. This will contribute to building our identity as Ecuadorian judo."

If Ecuador is not now a big country of judo, in terms of world results and numbers of practitioners, the will to progress is well written in the DNA of the federation, "We always try to set ourselves high goals. I learned this from my elders. My uncle was president of the federation and he instilled this philosophy in us. We already organise a continental open and we are candidates in the years to come to host world events for cadets, juniors or veterans. Why not a grand prix one day too? With this junior world championship, we now have the know-how."

Roberto Ibáñez is a young president but there is already great experience at all levels of practice, "I started judo when I was ten. I was born in Ecuador and later my family travelled between here and the United States, where my father worked. I spent six years in the United States before returning to Guayaquil. My father and my uncle were judoka, so it was natural that, along with my brother, we began to practise this sport. From the moment I started I never stopped. From a young competitor, I became a senior athlete. I participated in the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing. Then I got married. It was not easy to train and stay on weight, so I decided to move on to a new phase in my life as a judoka and I became a coach.

The training conditions were not the same as today. It was more complicated. So I decided to open a small judo club in Guayaquil called Tachi-Waza. In a few years, we were able to structure things. For example, every year we organise the Tachi-waza tournament which brings together more than 800 judoka from 5 to 15 years old. 

As I said, everything I do I learned from my elders. I owe them a lot. My uncle was an important figure in national judo and he was tough. For him, we had nothing for nothing. We had to work hard. When I became a coach, he explained to me that I first had to be a coach for six months without being paid, in order to see if I had the motivation. Above all, he told me that if my athletes did not win the Juegos Bolivarianos, there was no point in me continuing on this branch. We won the event for the first time in our history and I stayed on as coach. He was right. Shortly after that we won a first world medal in juniors, in Miami. Then we started winning more continental medals in seniors. In Rio in 2016, two athletes represented Ecuador at the Olympic Games. Today our competitors are not happy when they win a continental medal, they want gold. We are getting better."

When Roberto's uncle left the presidency of the federation, he was invited to join the executive committee, while continuing to collect significant results as a coach, "In the Cancun Grand Prix, we won a bronze medal. It was the first on the World Judo Tour. Finally two years ago, I was elected as president of the federation. Although my missions have changed, the will to progress is still there."

Professionally Roberto occupies a strategic position, "I am in charge of all the sports facilities in the province of Guayas. You could say that I now have the muscles to be able to achieve even higher goals, as is the case with the world junior championships. I had spoken with President Vizer and I had told him about our intention to organise the cadet worlds but the date had already been set in another country. One day I received a call telling me that the juniors were still available but I had to say yes or no on the spot. I didn't have the budget yet but I didn't hesitate for a second. I said yes and we got together immediately to work. I must say that I admire President Vizer because he dared to trust us. We are small compared to the big sports nations but he believed in us. We could not disappoint him."

A sport like judo works according to a very specific organisation in this country, “Judo is sponsored by public authorities and we have to follow a certain protocol. We still have work to do to get things done, but we are gradually getting there. We need to open locks and with the support of everyone, we are succeeding. I am convinced that this world championship will help us enormously. Today we have some 2,500 active judoka in the country, regularly participating in our competitions. This number will increase, I'm sure of it."

The envy and the will are not lacking, nor are the means which are beginning to arrive to make it possible to envisage a radiant future for Ecuadorian judo. This is the result of a strategy and a vision inherited from the past and perfectly implemented in the present by Roberto Ibáñez and his entire team. If judo develops in Ecuador, it will continue to develop throughout the continent and throughout the world.

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