Triple Olympian judoka (Atlanta ‘96, Sydney ‘00, Athens ’04), a world championship finalist, Sara Alvarez (ESP) is the sport director of the national judo federation of Spain. She won three world medals and two European titles during her career. She became Spanish national coach and was also a member of the EJU coaching commission. In recent years she has fulfilled her duties as the IBSA Judo Sport Director, yet her VI judo experience began as a sport commissioner at first.
Sara Alvarez and the IBSA team

“I was working in IBSA judo before as a sport commissioner. Although my favourite spot is on the mat, I changed side. I worked as a journalist earlier in my career but I missed judo a lot, so I returned as a coach and as part of the organising committee of the Spanish Judo Federation.”

In 2018 Sara started working with the IJF as a sport commissioner and she was invited to help at IBSA events. “Tokyo was a great experience, at the Paralympics, it was special being at the home of judo.

Following the Games, IBSA Judo chairman, Mr Janos Tardos asked me to focus on IBSA events as the sport director and here the events and the teams are a lot smaller. With that comes a smaller workforce and potentially more work. We are very busy, often challenged, but this also allows us to grow a lot. I believe we came far with a great, professional team. We all love judo, so this is good.

One of the biggest challenges is that we mostly work with local organising teams who are volunteers from their respective National Paralympic Committees, often with no experience in judo. So, it is about translating our judo mind to them to then be able to work together.

For example, I had a situation where I had to explain why we need extra space in the warm-up area, to have additional spots to rest. It was suggested to me to instruct athletes to go up to the tribune between fights. So, things like this happen sometimes but these are just particularities of our sport which need to be understood by non-judoka. Budget and other elements are also part of current challenges. However, on the opposite side, everyone is so nice, it is really like a family. It is pure.”

From on the mat to off the mat, it has been a while, “Well of course I am a person who used to compete and I am lucky that I had the opportunity to adapt myself and understand how much work goes into any event. When you are an athlete, you are focusing on you only, your opponent perhaps. As an athlete you have no idea how much work goes into these events. So, I am the same but different now. I also had two wonderful children in-between. I feel very lucky. I would give a lot to go back on the mat. Of course that is not possible but the closer I am to the mat, the more my heart feels full.”

In the near future, “We need to work to grow more, focus on small countries, not small in size but economically and at para sport level. Also, we need to focus on children. We have no competition for children or the youth.”

After this weekend, there are two more IBSA events left as part of the Paris 2024 Paralympic Games qualifiers. The road was long and generated a lot of memories. Sara Alvarez pointed three out of them. “First, the Egypt tournament; like I said, the LOC prepares a lot but knows little about judo in general. We had lot of challenges but there was a young woman called Nada, who was the head of the local organisation team. Eventually she was able to fix almost everything and at the end of the competition I turned to her and said, ‘Nada, you did it.’ She burst into tears. It was a huge task for a young woman with not so much experience.

“The second one is from when IBSA made a difficult decision to separate categories to J1 and J2 and until the first event we did not know how it would turn out. The relief we had after the first event was incredible and we understood a good decision had been made.”

“The third one is ongoing: every time I meet our team! We have a wonderful team.”

Knowing the amount of work she has, Sara Alvarez was always available, as is everyone within the organisation and that makes it a success. Within IBSA, judo hearts are beating hard and fast and that’s what makes it beautiful to attend and watch.

Photos © Ralf Kuckuck

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