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BJA Failing Athletes. 

On August 23rd through 29th the World Judo Championships were held in Paris. The event was an amazing success with big Ippons and great atmosphere, if you were not there you were able to follow the action via live Internet video stream or on TV in some countries.

However, as a member of the British Judo Association (BJA), the event was a disaster! And although being "sworn off" criticizing the BJA, I am going to post today about the disaster in the hope that it makes a difference. And to be frank with you, to vent the rage that I feel.

The rage is because I feel strongly that the system is failing the athletes. This upsets me immensely as for the athletes, this is their whole world, their lives, what makes them; them. This people are choosing to pursue Judo rather than wives, kids, careers, normal lives. They sweat, they hurt, they get injured and for what? Not for the money that is clear. The fame? Not likely in the UK. So it upsets me when I see talented dedicated young athletes not succeeding in a period where British Judo has more resources at it's disposal than ever before and more resources than most of their competition.

In simple terms, the performance of the British team is the worst since 1969, 42 years ago! (Bob over at ... ad-is-bad/ has all the numbers).
By "poor performance", I am using medals as the criteria. As Bob shows in his post, this is the first World Championships since 1975 that Great Britain has not brought back a medal.

And this is not with a bunch of newbies, many of the team are seasoned veterans making their final run at an Olympic Games. You have athletes who have won world medals, world cup medals, even some who have made top 5 at the Olympics. Yet in Paris they failed worse than ever before… why? and who is to blame?

Below are my views on this:

1. Don't blame the athletes!
Not a single athlete on the team went to Paris not wanting to win. If anyone blames the athletes I'll argue with them till I turn blue in the face. There are plenty of people to point the finger at, but the players are not the right people to blame.

2. Who is responsible + Who is to blame?
Two different questions, the responsible individuals are those whose role is to deliver performance. The individuals to blame are those who have not created good performance. There is a difference.

3. What now?
As I have stated in earlier posts and is even more of a issue now, we are less than a year from the Olympics. There is little time to do anything. So should we change anything? Tough call. And if we have the urge to make changes, what to do?!?!

But lets go back to who is responsible and who is to blame first.

Who is Responsible for the BJA's poor performance in Paris?
This may seem like a tough question, but in fact is probably the easiest question to answer. A 10 second browse of the BJA's website gives the answer ( ... 6&y=14 ).

The person responsible is Margaret Hicks (Performance Director), her role in the organization is to deliver elite performance. No matter what anyone says, her primary role is to build an environment that delivers success and Paris was not a success, so she has failed.

Second on the list would be Patrick Roux (GB Head Coach), his salaried job is to coach the athletes with his team and deliver success. Again Paris was a disaster so he has failed.

Below this we get down to lower level management and support staff. They are not "responsible" for the overall failing to perform. if we discuss them it is in the context of blame and not responsibility. As stated above, those responsible for the situation (IMHO at least) are the Performance Director and Head Coach.

To be clear, at this point of the post, I am not saying that either individual has done anything wrong. All I am saying is that it was/is their responsibility to deliver success and the facts show they have failed to do this.

Obviously, given the scale of the failure in Paris and leading up to Paris; those with responsibility (named above) need to consider their positions and if they are the problem. More on that later.

Blame… lets point some fingers!
So, for me formal responsibility lies squarely at the feet of Margaret and Patrick. But that is just saying that the post they hold is responsible. They may be brilliant at what they do and their only failing is in having a team that did not do their jobs.

The obvious targets I predict taking the blame are the athletes.

This I think is wrong and to be honest, cowardly and naive if it happens. Sure, each athlete has responsibility for their own performance and every single one of them will know in their minds and hearts that they did things wrong, thats why they did not win.
But, they are responsible for only a single players performance, their own. You can not blame the athletes for the collective failure. The -48kg player has no responsibility for the +100kg athletes failure.

And lets just reflect on those two players…

-48kg was… nobody.
+100kg was… nobody.

Great Britain in the final World Championships prior to London2012 did not have athletes in either category! Why? Can we assume then that in London GB won't fill those categories either?
Paris was a huge experience for any athlete, a great preparation to the pressure they'll be under in London, but there are british athletes who did not have the opportunity to learn from that experience.
Again, this is not something the players themselves decided, or are responsible for.

The players are not the bad guys/girls here. They are all fallible and all failed to win medals. Which contributed to the overall failure. But they are only responsible for a small part of the overall failure. They are also the ones fighting injured and giving it all they can. Take a quick look at who is going in for surgery from the Paris team and tell me they did not give it all they had!

Don't blame the talent, they don't deserve to be dumped on.

If it was a single athlete who failed, sure leap on them and tear them apart. But the entire team failed, so for me this is a sign that the system is at fault not the players. The athletes are awesome but victims of the system, they can only do what they can do.

So… blame the system.

I kinda spoiled the surprise, in the previous paragraph, but I blame the system that the BJA has put in place. And I do so because the failure is so comprehensive across the team. If it had just been the men or just the women, or just the Scots or just the English then maybe we could attribute blame differently.

But no, it was failure across the board. In a centralized system that means for me, the people running the system are to blame. So for me not only does responsibility but blame also falls on the BJA High Performance Directorate management and staff.

Pointing to specific failures or assigning blame specifically is tougher and to be not fair on the individuals. Nor would it be useful. And it's like pulling at a thread on a piece of clothing, it just creates a mess and does not fix the problem.

But let me be clear, the performance director, head coach and other members of the directorate to larger or lesser degrees have failed the athletes and the BJA. The blame is squarely with them.
There are good people in the directorate, there are people trying to do good work and I don't want to attack them.

I hold desperately onto the belief that everyone in the directorate has their heart in the right place and that they are all trying to do the best job possible. But on the whole it is amazingly hard to believe.
Almost worse is the idea that these people are doing the best they can. This would be worse as it means they are incompetent and incapable of doing the task set them. And to make it worse, it means they don't realize they are not capable of getting the job done, which is very sad.

If however, they are competent, then why the hell are they not getting the job done?

As the old saying goes "damned if they do, damned if they don't". Either they are incompetent and incapable of getting the job done. Or they are competent and incapable of getting the job done. which one is worse??

I worry also that the IJF changes will also be blamed. The two person per weight, quarter final repecharge, etc. These are variables that have been on the radar for a while now. They have been in place for some time and every other country has the same situation. Blaming these changes is making excuses nothing more.

Of course no blame session would be complete without going higher up and looking at the board of directors, the CEO and staff of the BJA. Not to mention the culture of Judo in the UK and how it all contributes to the failure in Paris.

Paris came at the end of a period of fairly public turmoil at BJA HQ. Sorry…. thats right there was no problem, the deletion of threads and eventual closing of the forum proved that. As did the letter to all clubs from the chairman explaining everything was fine. The departure of key staff was unrelated I am sure, nor the new posts suddenly created/advertised.

The BJA is an odd odd beast, all of those who deal with it know that. It is inconsistent, larger than can be believed and treats those who actually deliver it's "product" surprisingly poorly.

The prevailing breeze is not fresh, but smells of discontent and frustration.

So perhaps whilst looking at blame, we need to consider if the performance directorate have been able to do their jobs? Perhaps the prevailing culture in the BJA and the climate within the organisation/business at BJA HQ is causing the problem? Or at minimum contributing to the problems?

One has to think that the BJA HQ and the current atmosphere within British Judo has contributed to the failures of the performance directorate. The poor level of coach education and CPD is not helping. The lack of robust competition structure perhaps is stunting development. Perhaps clubs feeling that each letter with a BJA logo on it is more work is not great. Maybe it's just the constant moving of goal posts as funding pools are chased. Or maybe it's all just grown too big for the clubs that are happy being hobbies rather than sports clubs.

so way too much to cover when it comes to who to blame. For me it is much easier and safer to look at responsibility and in that case it is clear that the BJA High Performance Directorate staff have failed in their duties.

Which leads me to what to do…

The obvious next step for me is that those who have failed to deliver what they are salaried to deliver should no longer hold those positions. Either they could do the "honorable thing" or BJA should step in and fire them.

At a minimum, Margaret Hicks and Patrick Roux should go. Personally, I think Jane Bridge should also go as the partnership between her and Patrick is such a close one. But in terms of job titles, she might survive the axe.

of course this leaves a big hole in the directorate and I do not know who could fill the posts. There is not in my view a clear candidate to be performance director within British Judo. Perhaps someone from another sport could be brought in till an expert could be identified and employed.

The other obvious choice is Karen Roberts, who is currently the Performance Operations Manager and on the whole well regarded.

Head Coach is easier to fill. You either shift existing BJPI coaches up the tree or get one of the coaches on the periphery in post. By this I mean Luke Preston, Juergen Klinger or Billy Cusack.

I think the most realistic actions are:

1. Margaret, Jane and Patrick resign with some dignity or are fired.
2. Karen Roberts becomes interim Performance Director
3. Darren Warner and Kate Howey become Mens and Womens interim coaches respectively.

You will notice I do not include Go Tsunoda in the mix there, purely as he is a part-time employee only. But perhaps he could be made full-time and become head coach?

Also I do not factor in people like Luke Preston, Juergen Klinger or Billy Cusack taking on the role. This is because the most realistic actions for me are to cull the failed leadership and then let the organizational tree fill the positions left open.

In the long-term the BJA would need to re-assess it's strategy and structures for performance and make structural and staff changes (hiring and firing) as appropriate.

None of the above is good for British Judo, especially in the context of London2012. Radical change as we come into the final stretch, not text book.
That said, we need to consider that the performance indicators (medals) show that we are on a losing path already, so what is the worst that could happen? We go along a similar path and repeat the Paris performance in London2012?
if we make changes now, then perhaps from the ashes something of a phoenix will rise and London2012 does not become a the disaster for British Judo that it looks to be at this point.

As for you the reader, what can you do?

Very little is the honest answer. My suggestion is that you apply what little pressure you can via you voice. I recommend writing a letter to the BJA HQ and copying it to UK Sport asking for answers and action.
I for example have asked my county committee to write a letter to BJA HQ, copied to BJA Southern Area and UK Sport; we shall see if they vote in favor of sending such a letter.
There is of course also your MP if you enjoy writing letters.

Sadly the reality is that we are little fish in the ocean and that there is little we can do, but at least if you do something you can sleep with clear conscience knowing you at least voiced your concerns and nobody can come back later and say "but you didn't say anything".

To close, I would like to express once more that I do not blame the athletes for this failure. They I have all the respect in the world for, it is thinking about them that raises the fire in my chest and makes me write critical posts like this one.

I should also state that the comments above are not aimed at the individuals in question as individuals, rather as the holders of posts in an organization. I appreciate that they will see this as a personal attack, and that hurts (vie experienced it and it is horrible).

However, the lives of young athletes are being ruined by the current situation and that for me takes priority of the hurt feelings of those silly enough to listen to my outbursts.

I would ask anyone who reads this post to put themselves in the shoes of one of the British players and feel the heart ache as they pour their bodies and entire lives into being athletes and the system fails them.

Feel that pain for a moment then decide if I am being unreasonable calling for those who are responsible for ruining these young athletes lives to be removed from their positions.

All comments welcome in the comments here or via email to

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