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We Need Champions For Life!

While the second competition day of the European Judo Championships Seniors was taking place in the Zagreb Arena, a high-calibre conference on the topic of “Children in Sport – Champions in Life” was held at the Westin Hotel on the initiative of the European Judo Union and the Croatian Ministry of Tourism and Sport. Minister of Sport and Tourism Nikolina BRNJAC and EJU President László TOTH acted as co-hosts. Other panellists included IJF President Mariusz VIZER, Kosovo Sports Minister Hajrula CEKU, IOC member Kolinda GRABAR-KITAROVIC and former Olympic water polo champion coach Ratko RUDIC.

“It is a historic day for us, because for the first time we are also organising a sports policy conference as part of a European Championship. I never get tired of emphasising that judo is more than just sport. As the title of today’s conference suggests, it is about training our children, young people and top athletes to become champions in life,” emphasised László Tóth. “When I look around the room today, I only see Champions in Life. From Olympic champions to business managers, politicians and top coaches – all of you are perfect role models.”

Mikolina Brnjac spanned the spectrum from her private life to her day-to-day work as a minister: “I’m a mum of two teenagers myself, so I know very well how important it is to get as many children as possible away from computer games and into sport. My children play basketball. As a mum, I couldn’t wish for more: they learn fair play, team play, how to deal with defeat and make friends for life. The Croatian Ministry of Sport has increased its budget from €28 million to around €120 million in eight years. We finance infrastructure and try to attract major international events to Croatia. There is no better way than to present top aces in action to our children in close proximity. The European Judo Championships are the best example. I am convinced that after these four days even more children will want to emulate Barbara Matic. And it’s not about moulding every child into a world champion. They should learn for life.” IJF President Marius Vizer told: “My CV is a good example: judo has helped me several times to reorganise my life, start again from scratch and press the reset button. Without judo, I wouldn’t be where I am today. I quickly learnt how to deal with setbacks. Of course we cherish the Olympic champions, World and European champions… but everyone needs to be important to us. We want to educate children and young people to become role models. The better we work together with governments, school authorities and professional associations, the more efficiently we can do this.”

The most important quotes from the speakers summarised:

Croatia’s Minister of Tourism and Sport Nikolina Brnjac: “We have been able to get 250,000 children interested in exercise through sporting events. This is an appealing figure, but we want to further intensify our support. And I am lucky to have Prime Minister Andrej Plenković as a great supporter of these campaigns. This also applies to all infrastructure projects. We are working intensively with the Ministry of Education on this. This year alone, we will invest 15 million euros in infrastructure projects and major events.”

IOC member Kolinda-Grabar-Kitarovic: “Our society needs sports idols who inspire our youth. Sport is also an effective tool for taking stronger action against hate speech and marginalisation. This makes our society more crisis-proof, more stable and healthier in the long term.”

Hrvoje Custonja, CEO of the International School Sport Federation: “The current figures are sobering – we are still feeling the after-effects of the coronavirus pandemic. 67 per cent, I repeat: sixty-seven per cent of our pupils say they don’t have time for regular sport. That is shocking. We have to fight against this reality – the easiest way to do this is with stars like Barbara Matic, Lara Cvjetko and Katarina Kristo.”

Minister of Youth, Culture and Sport for Kosovo, Hajrula Ceku: “Croatia is definitely a role model when it comes to promoting sport and anchoring it in society. The figures that my colleague mentioned are really impressive. We are trying to follow a similar path. We started a school football project last year. The total investment for five years is 200 million euros. We have also started to buy sports equipment for schools, towns and villages. And we are slowly preparing for the Mediterranean Games 2030 in Kosovo. 26 countries will take part and almost 4,000 athletes. More than 10,000 children have started judo in our school programmes. A good number of them have ended up in judo clubs. We also emphasise the importance of looking after youngsters who may not be blessed with sporting talent. We want to pick them all up. Allow me to make one more comment: the European Judo Championships Open in Pristina last December were a complete success. Anyone who wanted to, especially children and young people, could admire the two Olympic champions Nora Gjakova and Distria Krasniqi up close.”

IJF President Marius Vizer: “My experience is that the better the sports law in the country in question, the better and more efficient the entire system usually is. Croatia is certainly a model country here, that is undisputed. The Croatian Judo Federation has risen to become one of the leading associations in Europe in recent years, and things are also going very well in sporting terms. I can only thank those responsible.”

EJU President László Tóth: “We really do offer judo in Europe for everyone, even for those who are not necessarily interested in dueling. Everyone is welcome, regardless of their level or disability. We also offer a competition tour for adaptive judo and have had very good experiences with this in initial tests. Anyone can become a Champion for Life and the European Judo Union is here to help.”

Author: EJU Media