Liam Morgan ©ITG

When the International Olympic Committee (IOC) confirmed the inclusion of a mixed team judo event at Tokyo 2020, the sport's leader Marius Vizer reacted by claiming its addition to the programme was a "dream come true".

It was a response typical of an International Federation which had just seen a mixed version of their sport gain a place at the Olympics and all the prestige that entails.

Others, particularly those in the media, were not so gushing.

It is easy to understand why. 

After all, sports campaign furiously, and often unsuccessfully, for a spot at the Games.

Still, mixed team events in athletics, swimming, archery and table tennis were gifted a place on an Olympic programme other sports fight so hard for.

Triathlon and judo were the others granted the addition of a mixed team event.

Few would argue that was undeserved as both the International Triathlon Union and International Judo Federation (IJF) had actively pursued it long before it became fashionable.

They were trying to get their mixed format added to the Olympics long before the IOC decreed gender equality was so important.

Most International Federation felt they ought to pander to the wishes of the IOC and its President Thomas Bach by putting forward a mixed team event, even if they had previously shown little inclination about it being a priority. 

The IJF under Vizer, though, had made a concerted effort to showcase what they believe are the benefits of having men and women compete side-by-side.

It was interesting to see it presented at the IJF World Championships for the first time in Budapest when it brought the event to a close last Sunday (September 3).

The mixed team judo event made its debut at the senior World Championships in Budapest ©Getty Images
The mixed team judo event made its debut at the senior World Championships in Budapest ©Getty Images

A total of 21 nations entered the historic competition, with the final session watched by Bach from the VIP box at the László Papp Sports Arena.

The competition saw women competed at under 57 kilograms, under 70kg and over 70kg and the men participated at under 73kg, under 90kg and over 90kg.

Each team was made up of 12 judokas - two in each weight category - and were free to rotate their line-ups from match-to-match.

Japan, surprise surprise, emerged as the victors.

Soichi Hashimoto, winner of one of seven individual Japanese gold medals during the Championships, admitted he did not know how to feel about it prior to the start of the competition. 

It is a view which would have been shared by many.

A debut of any sport or discipline at a major championships is always accompanied by a certain level of uncertainty, and judo’s mixed team event was no different.

How will it work? Will it be a success or a failure?

Judging on the evidence provided in Budapest, the answer lies somewhere in between.

A total of 21 nations entered the mixed team event in Budapest ©Getty Images
A total of 21 nations entered the mixed team event in Budapest ©Getty Images

The athletes certainly seemed to buy into it as a concept and the scoring system and format was relatively easy to follow.

The free-flowing nature of the contests made for an intriguing spectacle and there was a real sense, from certain nations at least, that the competition really mattered - an element which would have been well received by Vizer and Bach.

Although Japan, the overwhelming favourites, won the gold medal, the event was also not short of unpredictability.

Canada, a country which failed to win an individual medal of any colour in the Championships, enjoyed a surprise run to the quarter-finals,.

Mongolia, who ended the Championships in second place on the overall standings behind the Japanese juggernaut, meanwhie, endured a premature exit.

It is fair to say, however, that the competition left the IJF with questions to answer and obvious flaws to address as it prepares for its Olympic debut in the "motherland" of judo at Tokyo 2020.

For a start, it dragged on for far too long, making it easy for spectators to lose interest by the time it got to the business end of the event.

This particular aspect was not helped by the fact that matches carried on even when a team had reached the required number of four wins. It meant the remaining contests were dead rubbers and had no bearing on the outcome.

Thankfully for the IJF, there is a simple remedy to this problem – end the match as soon as one nation reaches four points.

Another difficult issue is the weight categories which form the mixed team event as it excludes those at the bottom and top ends of the scales.

By setting the limit for men at over 90kg, for example, the IJF risked the possibility of a total mismatch. Teddy Riner, the French star, who won his ninth world title in Budapest and extended his winning streak to 134 matches, weighed in for the Championships at 141kg and could feasibly been drawn against someone who would usually compete at under 98kg.

The IJF will argue their current distribution is the fairest solution but perhaps they should consider introducing a limit of, say, 100kg in the men’s side of the event to make sure the boundaries are crystal clear.

IOC President Thomas Bach was in attendance for the mixed team competition ©IJF
IOC President Thomas Bach was in attendance for the mixed team competition ©IJF

The IJF would also have been disappointed to see the lack of fans inside the arena for the mixed team event. While they have championed the concept for many years now, it had clearly not caught on among the Hungarian public.

This, however, will not be a problem during Tokyo 2020, but it may be something to address at future editions of the World Championships. 

Cheaper tickets, or even free entry when bought with other sessions at the event, could be the way forward.

The response was also mixed from the athletes, although their reaction leaned more towards the positive than the negative.

Brazil's Victor Penalber said there was a "special feeling" about the mixed team event but Kim Min-jeong of South Korea conceded it "took a bit long" to finish. Kim added she was "exhausted" by the end of a gruelling day.

Considering it was in essence a trial, the IJF will have been pleased with the results as a whole.

But the mixed team event becoming an important part of the Olympic Games in any sport remains, at this stage, the stuff of dreams.