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British judo split over 2012 plan
9 Sep 2008 14:13 BST

By Matt Slater

Leading members of Britain's judo squad remain unconvinced over the governing body's plans to set up a full-time, centralised training base in Dartford.

The British Judo Association (BJA) wants to follow the golden example set by centralised sports like cycling.

"We've had two Olympics where we've failed and we can't let that happen again," said BJA boss Densign White.

But judokas Euan Burton and Sarah Clark are not convinced of the need to leave their Scottish base and move to Kent.

"We have a pocket of excellence in Edinburgh," said Burton, who won a bronze medal at last year's world championships but could only manage a seventh-place finish in China.

"Going into Beijing we had three world top-10 players at our club. That's a centre of excellence right there.

"We've only got 15 or 16 full-time athletes but half of them have had success at world or European level in senior or junior judo."

Clark, who won gold at the 2006 Europeans but lost her first fight in Beijing, would also need to be persuaded of the benefits of a move south.

"I think a full-time base could be one of the ways forward but if you've only got seven athletes that's not enough - you need five or six in each weight category," she said.

"So yes, centralising could be one of the ways, but do we all go to one centre? Do you take all the coaches who are doing well where they are and move them all there? There are still a few things to talk about."

White, however, told BBC Sport it was time for the country's top players and coaches to "get real" and accept the radical changes needed to deliver success in 2012.

Britain's seven-strong judo team went to Beijing with serious ambitions of success and a target of two medals. But two seventh-place finishes (Burton's and Craig Fallon's) were the best they could muster after a series of disappointing displays.

"A two-medal target should never be too high for Britain. It was realistic for Beijing and it's higher for London - there, it's three medals and one of them has to be gold," said White. "I think that's achievable, providing you get the system in place."

The BJA was looking at establishing a full-time base in Dartford prior to Beijing. It now feels moving the high-performance programme to one site is imperative.

"It's not going to be an easy process because not everybody believes in a centralised system," said White, who played judo for Britain at the Los Angeles, Seoul and Barcelona Games.

"But it's been a formula for success for cycling and boxing. Not everybody agrees it could have the same impact for judo but I think we're now in a place where we have to look at it.

"If people are receiving funding I think we can expect a little bit more from them. I don't think people should receive funding and then think they can just carry on doing what they were doing before.

"Our top players need to be practising three or four times a week together and not just meeting up every eight weeks. That's not going to cut it."

White believes it is time to get Britain's best 2012 prospects under the same roof, alongside the national coaches, strength and conditioning staff, team nutritionist, video analysis expert and other support staff. At present, those people are forced to criss-cross the country to see the athletes.

"It just doesn't work - it's not the best use of their time," he said. "If we're all dispersed around the UK how can we get the quality? There's no point complaining about it, we have to come together.

"People will have to make a decision. You either want to win an Olympic medal or you don't, and if you want to win a medal you have to make sacrifices."

While White seems determined to force through his plans for a single training centre, he is more sympathetic to Clark's call to increase the numbers in the British system, wherever it is based. The BJA, which has 40,000 members, wants to double that by 2012.

With 60,000 Britons estimated to be involved in clubs not affiliated to the BJA, that 2012 goal might not be as ambitious as it sounds initially, but with growth running at less than 5% (and 1,000 players leaving the sport a month) it will still take some doing.

So it was with this in mind that Burton, Clark and White were in London last week to lend their support to a joint venture with G4S Security Services, the British subsidiary of Group Four Securicor. The firm is investing £1m to promote judo to the children of its 15,500-strong workforce.

But everybody knows schemes like this are unlikely to deliver serious results without the added pull of Olympic success. Britain has not claimed a medal at this level since 2000. There were no medals in 1996 and we have still never won an Olympic judo gold.

"Our funding partners will expect us to come to the table with a detailed plan for how we're going to get success in 2012," admitted White.

The foremost of those partners is UK Sport, the agency that distributes public money to elite sport in this country. With funding linked to performance, a second straight medal-less Games has left judo worried about its grant.

Judo received £3.9m for the Sydney cycle, £4.1m for Athens and £6.95m for Beijing - this last amount, however, was not the huge increase it seems as the BJA had to fund more of its outgoings from that sum.

As a result, it laid off 11 members of staff after Athens and the team opted to go to Beijing without a head coach. This is a situation White wants to avoid in the run-up to 2012.

"We have a problem where the top players value their personal coaches more than the national coaches," he said. "I think we've got to overcome that so our stars really believe in the British system."

It is with this in mind that Patrick Roux has been hired to lead the programme from 1 January. The highly-rated Frenchman will be based in Dartford but how many of Britain's Beijing team will be there with him remains to be seen.

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