8 Apr 2016

Sport: Big Pacific presence at final Olympic judo qualifiers

12:12 pm on 8 April 2016

The Oceania Judo Championships get underway in Canberra today in what will be the last chance for competitors to earn direct qualification for the Rio Olympics.

Only five Pacific Island athletes competed at the Oceania Open in November, which featured a stronger international field.

But this weekend's event is restricted to the region and has attracted close to 60 entrants in the senior men's and women's competitions, including from Fiji, New Caledonia, French Polynesia, Nauru, Papua New Guinea, Samoa, Solomon Islands and Vanuatu.

CEO of Judo Federation of Australia Alex Valentine said it was a final opportunity to gain crucial rankings points.

"It's not a case of you win this and you're into Rio but this is the last chance to earn world ranking points, which is what the qualifications are done on so all of the athletes from Oceania have been around the world for the last 12 months or so earning Olympic qualification points and later this month is the cut-off and the top 22 men in the world and the top 14 women in the world, based on the world rankings list, are the ones that qualify for Rio."

Alex Valentine said judo in Oceania was in a development phase and, while competitive, was not as strong as powerhouse regions like Asia and Europe.

He said the Oceania Judo Union had a 10 year plan to grow the sport.

"It's really about lifting the capability and the capacity of particularly the Pacific Island countries in this area. Australia and New Zealand can play a part in that as well to help with coach development to build them up and the more we build them up it obviously strengthens the region and the stronger the region is, as a group, we get more competitive on the world stage."

Alex Valentine said if 10-12 Oceania athletes could earn qualification via world rankings points that would be a good result, with judoka from Australia, New Zealand and Fiji all considered a good chance of achieving that.

He said Oceania would be offered a spot in each Olympic division if no one is ranked high enough by the end of the month, while there were also wildcard spots allocated to smaller nations which could help boost the Pacific Islands presence.

As well as the senior competition, there are also an extra 200-300 judoka competing in the cadets, juniors, kata and veterans divisions over the next three days.