BRITISH JUDO’S recent announcement that the sport could now start up again ought to have come attached with the kind of caveat more commonly seen on television. “Except for players in Scotland”.

While their English counterparts get to grips with training once again, the wait goes on for clubs and judoka based north of the border.

For those like Lee Calder, who runs the Judo Club Esprit in Alloa and also takes classes throughout Edinburgh, it makes for an uncertain time.

Like most self-employed workers, Calder naturally has financial concerns having been unable to teach his students for more than four months now. His greatest worry, though, is for the discipline itself.

As other sports gradually get going again, Calder fears interest in judo may drop off with no return likely in Scotland before the autumn at the earliest.

“Judo Scotland have tried their hardest to keep us abreast with what’s going on but, because the legislation is changing from week to week, it’s really hard for them to nail down where we are with it all,” he said.

“Nobody has been able to put a date on when we might be able to return to play which is frustrating. I’ve never been out of work this long before. I’ve always been teaching judo. And it’s been tough financially as we need to keep paying the rent on the dojo in Alloa.

“But I want to stick by the rules. My wife owns a hairdressers and I think if there was a second wave and another lockdown it would kill so many small businesses that are already struggling.

“I would rather be safe than sorry and go back when it’s the right time to do that. But I worry for the future of judo in Scotland with other sports able to go back. We could lose player after player to other interests.

“Do they find another sport in the interim and then not come back at all? Some players might also just find it scary to be back on the mat.

“I know one who can’t see herself coming back to judo as she’s got a fear now about it all. And this is someone who four or five months ago would have walked on to the mat full of confidence. The virus has changed a lot of perceptions.”

The most dedicated, though, have been logging in for regular Zoom lessons and continuing to support the club.  And that won’t be forgotten.

“A lot of the parents have been fantastic and maintained their standing orders for the kids,” revealed Calder who also works with the Irish Judo Association.

“We will reciprocate that when we get back by buying the children new kit or some other gesture to thank them for sticking by us in a difficult time.”

Finding suitable venues for their usual classes in Edinburgh could prove problematic even when judo is allowed to get going again.

“My son Reece was on a call with Active School coordinators and the council in Edinburgh and they intimated to us that we might not be able to hire a hall in any of the schools or leisure centres until October.

“So even if Judo Scotland said you can start again with 15 kids on a mat we couldn’t re-open in any of our usual venues. All our Edinburgh classes would have to stay off until the schools were comfortable with us being there.”

Being both an indoors and a contact sport makes the resumption of judo difficult. But Calder doesn’t envisage the sport undergoing any significant adaptation to adjust to the post-Covid era.

“We could take the kids outdoors but the kind of sport judo is you have to grab each other,” he added. “It’s such a hard sport to practise on your own.

“You really need a partner because it’s a contact sport. We could run around in a field but then it just becomes physical exercise rather than judo.

“I don’t see how they can change the sport. You can’t wear a mask or gloves, and there has to be contact. That’s what the sport is all about.”

There are mental health benefits to judo, too. “We’ve driven the sport before by emphasising what it can do for you physically,” added Calder. “Now we need to start pushing how it can improve your mentality and mental well-being.

“The founder of judo Jigoro Kano was a schoolteacher so maybe we need to get back to promoting those basic principles again.”