Elite level participation is the highest participation any athlete can achieve in any sport. It is the pinnacle of sporting success; the competition is the best it can ever be, athletes are in peak physical condition and the best of the best take on the media and sponsorship deals.
The greater number of people involved in a sport leads to a higher number of the athletes competing at an elite level. This is due to more availability of elite tournaments the greater need for elite training for coaches and athletes alike, and the sport will slowly and naturally grow. Around 40 million people around the world practice Judo and these numbers continue to increase consistently with the growing popularity of the sport. However, if you compare the number of Judokas that practice the sport at an amateur level or for popular recreation they are a greater percentage than the Judoka performing at an elite level. There are various reasons for starters elite Judo is a tough mental and physical challenge for any participant. Also, access to elite training and development is limited especially in developing continents such as Africa.
Figure 1: Elite African Judoka in action.
National Governing Bodies For Elite Athlete
National Governing Bodies (NGB), are organizations responsible for facilitating elite athletes who are participating at regional and national levels. Let's take the biggest and most important governing body in Judo the International Judo Federation (IJF). The IJF is in control of most governing bodies around the world and has done an immense job in creating numerous world championship tournaments that elite Judokas can compete in. In 2017 alone there were 20 major competitions around the world that elite Judoka could compete in.
Limits To Elite Judo:
Even though Judo continues to grow in popularity and stature is the one underlying issue that limits elite growth and participation. The sport is still more popular as a recreational activity than as an elite profession. People around the world seem to treat Judo the way they do Yoga, and even as participation begins to increase, elite athletes are not growing as consistently. Furthermore, there are limits to what a Judoka can do to another Judoka in a bout, and due to the various forms of Jujitsu, some arts are allowed to be more violent such as the Mixed Martial Arts Fighting (MMA). This is means that athletes are more attracted to other forms of martial arts to garner financial success and fame. Also, no martial art is as tasking as Judoka. The sport is all about controlled aggression, and this may not be as attractive to viewers, and Judoka athletes are not marketed as brands, and there is less incentive to join the sport. There is barely any television coverage of elite judo bar the Olympics. In a technological world marketing is a vital tool for any elite sport to grow. It is incredible that Judo runs just behind soccer regarding popularity when you consider the disparity regarding media coverage between the two sports, and this fact only seems to highlight the participation rates of Judo are concentrated in recreation as compared to elite practice.