Written by Jo Crowley on 06. Jun 2024
Photographs by Thomas Taylor

The movement towards gender equality has been a hot topic, one way or another, for centuries. Much progress has been made but this is not a settled or completed mission yet as inequality remains, both visible and hidden, chipping away at the potential for excellence and fairness.

Ryoko Tani, double Olympic champion, among 5 Olympic medal-winning appearances, and 7-time world champion has strong feelings about perceptions of women and equality in sport. She was one of the first high performance judoka to start a family during her elite career and won both an Olympic medal and a world title after having her son.

Ryoko Tani won Olympic bronze in Beijing, 2008, after becoming a mother.

“It is different now. Now there is the real possibility for athletes to start their family, to have children and to stay in high level sport. My goal is for sport to be, in a way, gender-free; married, with children, single, all should be able to join in with sport no matter the demographic. This is my future goal.

I would like to contribute to the IJF’s movement in the equal opportunities field. There needs to be more male understanding but also female, in order to create a more fair situation, not just in judo, which is already doing well, but in all sport.”

Issues around women in sport and the need to start a family while still competing are not the only barriers to fair participation.

“Through judo and sport I recognise that people in many countries still cannot practise judo, for different reasons, and I would like to support them in the future. The message is that nations and people can learn from each other through judo. In developing countries, through judo activities, there is a new mix of cultures, promoting tolerance and highlighting opportunities that may not have been considered previously for some groups in society. Judo can help us all to open our eyes to nice people and positive experiences. This is judo’s role.”

Ryoko Tani in interview in Tokyo, 2024.

Jigoro Kano Shihan set out to promote judo as an educational tool for the betterment of society and his original philosophies are standing the test of time with more high profile athletes joining the campaign for equality, in all its forms. Ryoko Tani is part of that movement and is looking forward to the progress that undoubtedly lies ahead.