The event was held on 28th October 2023 and was organised by the Zimbabwe Judo Association under the umbrella of the Judo in Schools programme. It was the Hellenic Primary School in Harare that conducted the Japanese Ambassador Tournament.

His Excellency, the Japanese Ambassador Mr Satoshi Tanaka and his staff, but also Mr Chadenga representing the Minister of Sports and Recreation, Minister Kirsty Coventry, were present. 19 schools and 300 children participated.

Among the participants were 21 refugees, accompanied by their coaches. 17 of them won a medal, mostly gold. A few years ago, the Zimbabwe Judo Association entered into a tripartite agreement with their neighboring countries, Malawi and Zambia. The goal of the programme is to develop a Judo for Peace regional programme and part of its mandate is to invite refugees in all tournaments to promote inclusion. The purpose of the programme in Zimbabwe is to provide safe and fair opportunities for refugees to participate in judo. In this framework, Zimbabwe signed a bilateral agreement with the UNHCR to provide assistance with the movement and travel of the refugees, since most do not have formal documentation.

All through the year, judo activities are taking place in the Tongogara Refugee Camp which is located near Chipinge, Zimbabwe, about 420 km southeast of Harare, and counts 17,000 refugees from 15 different nations. To date, after the introduction of the Judo in Schools programme, the centre welcomes more than 100 participants. Some of them could participate in the Japanese Ambassador Tournament.

Equipment donation in Tongogara

Recently, on 31st January 2024, the refugee camp which was rebranded Tongogara Settlement Camp, received 50 tatami and 40 judogi, donated by the IJF, helping to further develop activities. Tongogara was therefore made the epicentre for the Judo in Schools programme in the region. It is designed to not only enhance physical fitness but also instill essential life skills and values such as discipline, respect and teamwork, while identifying talent. In 2023, the refugee judoka participated in five tournaments including the Japanese Ambassador Tournament.

As part of this regional development work, the Japanese Ambassador Tournament was perceived by the parents as excellent, a big opportunity which brings exposure to their children. Teachers were very happy and excited for their pupils. "The headmaster of St Jones school spent the whole competition close to the tatami and did not sit at the VIP table. He wanted to be close to his students," explained Smart Deke, the president of the Zimbabwe Judo Association, "It was impressive. The competition was viewed as a high level and very intense event, which went very well."

For the federation, the impact of such an event is important. First of all it's good promotion for the sport nationally and regionally. It helps to encourage cultural exchanges, bring skill development to the participants and gives them a sense of community which for the inclusion of the refugee communities is crucial. The tournament offered ideas around leadership and sportsmanship while being an inspiration for future athletes.

The positive repercussions of all the activities are already visible, "The tournament was well promoted and it attracted the attention of many schools. Year after year it's developing and we hope that soon it will get even more visible at the regional level. We are planning to have more editions of the event. The Japanese Ambassador Tournament is an opportunity for the Zimbabwe Judo Association to host a prestigious tournament.

In judo it is difficult, if not impossible, to completely separate the educational and sport dimensions. One goes with the other and vice-versa. This was proven perfectly with the Japanese Ambassador Tournament, which as the pinacle of a more in depth development programme at school level. What is even more impressive is that an event such as this offers the opportunity to talk about Judo for Peace and the inclusion of refugee communities. Cultural differences and respective backgrounds came together last October in Zimbabwe and that is thanks to judo.

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