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Kumo Judo Club sisters receive Great Britain call-up to lift some of the gloom

Not many sports have been hit harder by the Covid-19 pandemic than judo.

While all sport – aside from angling – is currently in hibernation due to the lockdown, that has not always been the case during recent months.

The likes of football, tennis, golf and hockey all returned last summer, albeit with a variety of restrictions.

Head coach Howard Oates. Picture: Mecha Morton
Head coach Howard Oates. Picture: Mecha Morton

However, as Kumo Judo Club head coach Howard Oates puts it: “Social distancing and judo do not exactly go hand in hand.”

Oates closed the doors to his North Lopham base last March, and while he was able to open a venue in Diss for a few weeks, the necessary limitations made it a largely fruitless venture.

Nevertheless, the club did receive a boost this week with the news that two of its members – Niamh and Eden Southgate – have been picked as part of the Great Britain Junior squad for 2021.

Eden and Niamh Southgate. Picture: Mecha Morton
Eden and Niamh Southgate. Picture: Mecha Morton

It remains to be seen when restrictions will allow the sisters to compete on the international scene, but it still provided some positivity after a tough few months.

Oates said: “They’ve been ever so down because all they want to do is fight and compete.

“I’ve been able to train them remotely because they have a cabin in their garden and their younger sister Tayla has also been involved, so we’ve got some routines done.

“It’s just a shame we cannot give them a guarantee as to when they’ll be able to get out there and compete for medals.

Niamh Southgate. Picture: Mecha Morton
Niamh Southgate. Picture: Mecha Morton

“We speak on a daily basis because it’s important to maintain that contact stream.

“There were times we were able to meet in parks and do some fitness work. All in all we’ve made the best of a very bad situation.”

But while the Southgates have each other to go through their routines and also the necessary space to carry it out, not all of the club members are as fortunate.

As a result, Oates is worried that he may lose some players before the sport is able to resume.

“With the rest of the club, a lot of them are single children without brothers or sisters who do judo,” added the coach.

“Hopefully we don’t lose anyone, but it is a worry because they’ll be able to do other sports before judo comes back.”

With more free time than he is used to, Oates has spent lockdown writing a book that is due to be released in June by Pitch Publishing.

Named ‘Accidental Olympian’, the book charts Oates’ son Colin’s rise from his father’s club in North Lopham to representing his country on the biggest stage of them all.

Oates senior also reflects on how he first got into judo, as well as looking at the future for the Southgate sisters. For more information, search for ‘Accidental Olympian’ on www.amazon.co.uk

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