There are exactly 160 days until the Olympics and 193 days until the Paralympics. For France it is all one big moment collectively under the title: Paris 2024. Para judo in France has been consistent over the past decades but has made an ascent in more recent years.

Under the leadership of Antoine Hays, Director Para Judo at the French Judo Federation, there are nine judoka expected to shine at the Champ de Mars Arena this summer. Mr Hays took over the sector at the end of 2021 with great ambitions, beyond gold medals.

“It is very important to perform well and to win medals but also to develop judo for all, blind, deaf, everyone. In Paris, the Paralympics is a big social event so we want to change the French mentality around disability and this Paralympics will be very important for that. Judo is a very strong sport with the values and the mind.

Within France Judo we are one team. We share the mat with Teddy Riner at INSEP, we have good support just like the Olympic team. We always say we are one team. From the performance side, we have a strong team and I hope the hard work will confirm things at the Paralympic Games.

We will continue to attend the IBSA events for two reasons: for top athletes to keep a strong position in the ranking and for others to see where they end up on the ranking. In July, we have a decision to make: who is going in which category? Unfortunately for Paris, we don’t have athletes for all categories. We worked on development over recent years, to find VI athletes, but of course it takes time. Perhaps after Paris we can have a full team for Los Angeles.”

Performance Director of the French Judo Federation, Bastein Puget, took over his role almost a year ago. He had been the Deputy Performance Director of the French judo team. His role involves overseeing both the Olympic and Paralympic teams and he shares the same view as Mr Hays that France has one team. Yet, he remains with divided responsibilities.

“I can manage both roles because for para judo I have Antoine who leads everything. We have very good people, a big team for this sector too, all specialists in this area. My job is very easier because I trust their work 100%. You know the calendar is very heavy but when we can we manage to bring them together.”

Media attention has been increased too, “For 3-4 years we put a lot of financial support into para judo because we believe in this sector. We have great athletes like Sandrine Martinet and Helios Latchoumanaya. We have big aims for Paris this year in the Paralympics. We also have Cyril D Jonard who is a legend, both deaf and blind and now 10 times a world champion. He participated at many Paralympics too. So really, we have a good team. As for the media for para judo, we also ensured we have a media manager travelling with us because we want to promote this sector. We have also opened the door for para judo at INSEP, so it is all work in progress, but we are on the right way. We are giving them the best chance to perform. I can tell you we have big dreams.”

France, a powerhouse of judo in the world, understands that with privilege comes pressure. Hosting the Games will uplift spirits as much as increase tension, after all, if France as a country gains a new and even more positive view about people with disabilities, the largest gold medal of all will have been won.

Photos © Bastien: France Judo/Pauce and Antoine: France Judo/T.Albisetti

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