The ripple effect is still being assessed and measured, even discovered, from the pandemic that continues to move goal posts, change lives and add challenge to otherwise seemingly logical projects.

Our SchoolJudo.EU project is wading through treacle, determined to push forward and bring an exciting and positively enveloping form of judo education to schools all over Europe. It’s not easy but all stakeholders remain persistent and committed and as such progress can be seen in various layers across the continent.

The plan is to bring a model of judo teaching to schools all over Europe, with the help of the Erasmus+ EU funding stream, equipping elite coaches with qualifications and training to be able to deliver an extraordinary programme within schools all over the continent. This programme is not just about judo but is inextricably linked to the values of judo and to the social and emotional development of the most important clients of all, the children. This was Jigoro Kano’s original intention and SchoolJudo.EU is making great strides towards achieving its goals.

The project will roll out in three countries, as an introduction to much broader coverage. Italy, Slovenia and Hungary are up first and what they are teaching already is that the diversity of both pedagogy and policy between countries and even regions is staggering and is one of the most complex hurdles of the project.

We are taking a look at the Italian arm of the trio and where they are now. The agreement between Erasmus and Italy was signed in January and the planning has been ongoing ever since. In January 2022 their first pilot school will deliver their programme, for a 3 month duration.

The Italian Judo, Wrestling, Karate and Martial Arts Federation (FIJLKAM) are fully invested in the project. Grazia Valenzano is the Project Co-Ordinator for Italian Judo and Federico Vitale is a member of their Media Team. They have brought us up to date with where things stand now.

Federico explained, “The conditions now are difficult. Two weeks ago schools finished for the summer. The clubs that are usually running in schools have been stopped due to Covid. Children still don’t have permission to train in their dojos, due to regulations from the government. Only the elite can train and even then only with specific rules.

I think we have time to plan now but we have to know if from September the gyms and clubs can be reopened, first. Planning is hard because without those dates and permissions it’s impossible to write a timeline and place an appropriately trained coach. Now we are searching for a former elite athlete to bring into the project.”

World champion Ruben Houkes (NED) delivering a values-led judo class in the Netherlands

Grazia offered some more information, “It’s fair to say that the project has to be implemented slowly. The Ministry of Education has not given priority to sport in schools. At this time our children have only 2 hours provision per week, nationally and so there is a lot of catching up to do regarding physical education and then judo afterwards. It’s exceptional to find a school that will prioritise sport and this is a barrier for us. Our Erasmus project is progressive and requires strong buy-in and so we have to approach every aspect carefully. Comparing the Italian situation to Slovenia, for example is impossible. Their government is fully engaged.”

The points made by Grazia and Federico are a perfect illustration of why the project is so important but also so complex. To be able to create a consistency of delivery within such inconsistent environments is a huge task. It shows the need for flexible planning but planning that doesn’t lose sight of the core values.

From the IJF Great8 drawing competition

Federico continued, “It’s tough to complete an initial investigation into all the current school programmes but this is what we must continue to do and we will. It is slow but it’s is happening.”

Soon the Italian SchoolJudo.EU project will be recruiting their first coach and the IJF Academy will provide them with the appropriate training. To then begin with just one school seems like a small step but really it is an enormous step and will pave the way for a cultural shift that can benefit many, many children in the months and years to come.

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