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BJA Level 3 Coach. 2nd Dan


The Cardiff Kid Who Became a Legend in Welsh Judo

Gary Baker on 16/12/2009 

He has an accent which, to steal the nickname of South Wales Echo columnist Dan O'Neill, is pure 'Kairdiff'. 

Roy Court could have been forged out of the same granite of Canton or Grangetown that other legends of the capital city have been over the generations.

But what Court has contributed to judo for disabled kids and adults around Cardiff and elsewhere in Wales and beyond is without compare.

His Lifetime Achievement and Special Recognition honour at last month's Sports Council of Wales Coach of the Year Awards gave him the recognition he really deserved for dedicating himself to helping special needs people in judo.

Court could easily have chosen to turn away a young seven year old girl with Downs Syndrome when she went to his club in Cardiff, stood by a dojo and asked if she could join because her mum was standing behind the girl and mouthing 'no'.

We all make life-changing decisions once in a while but when Court disobeyed the girl's mother and said 'Yes. Come on in', it was the start of something which set him on course to become judo's special needs champion of the past three decades.

And even that mother, who wanted him to turn her daughter away, became a superb assistant as his sessions for special needs children and adults around the capital city grew and grew.

Court said: "This first session, learning about Downs Syndrome from the parent, gave me the opportunity to advertise sessions of judo for people with special needs. 

"Little did I know at this time where this was going to take me, or what difficulties I could incur along the way.

"I did have reservations and doubts about some disabilities being able to participate, but decided, in my own mind to promote the sport of judo for all, regardless of the disability."

"I run three clubs in Cardiff at the moment, mainstream and special needs. I started as a coach with that one girl back in 1979 as there was nothing for anyone in the world who had special needs - other than those who were visually impaired - to do judo. 

"So to see what is happening now at the Special Olympics, where I've been the technical delegate at two World Games for them and I've been a technical delegate at the World Disabled Games, is great.

"We have elite players at the World Disabled Games and we are now being recognised not just by the British Judo Association but the European Judo Association.

"We have two people with special needs who have been successful in getting their black belts so there has been so many things along the line and I cannot just think of one which is my best achievement."

Court could have moved onto bigger things in judo but he is quite happy helping the special needs players.

"The joy and the pleasure is helping people, who never thought they could ever compete in a sport, to have the opportunity to do it.“

"The Welsh Judo Association and all the clubs in Wales are open for all disabilities. It is giving people a chance.“

"Even in my mainstream clubs, I have people there from four years of age right the way through to 60 or 70! “

"Darren Harris' (Cardiff) first judo club was mine. We used to take him to Manchester for squad training sessions and what I did there was to hand him over to someone higher up the ladder when he got very good.”

"I'm not a believer in keeping hold of people. If I know someone who will do better than me, I will certainly give them over because it is the athlete who is more important than anyone else," he says in that thick, friendly Cardiff tone.

And, with the opening of the long-awaited new multi-million pounds Dojo at the Welsh Institute of Sport, Court thinks the martial art has a big future in the Principality.

"I think judo here is getting into a very good situation. With the new Dojo open, I would think that, from 2010, you will have more schools coming in to use it plus your elite Welsh squads, and everyone else where they can train on a regular basis. It is a benefit to everyone from grass-roots to the top."

He added: "Look at the track record of this year, with the Welsh Judo Association and the youngsters coming through and the re-organisation internally, where we have a head of department now from Bath University, Dr Mike Cullen, and we can see with the youngsters that, eventually, will go through to the seniors.”

"We could be stronger than England or Scotland. In the School Games (this year), we were. We were top of the School Games so I think it is great, for Wales.”

"I heard a comment that Wales is sometimes not recognised as a sporting nation, but if you look at all the sports and look at the awards around and the nominations at the Coach of the Year Awards from a wide variety of sports, it proves that Wales is building things. We have got a national coach here in judo now which is one of the best I have seen.”

"If you go to schools - and the idea is to get children in schools doing judo - that facility there (the new Dojo) is open during the day.”

"A coach can invite a school in because not every school these days, with the funding as it is, can get judo mats - but they all have minibuses that they can transfer the children in!”

"I was out in a special school the other day and a headteacher said 'We want to go to the Sports Centre (WIS) because we want them to be in this environment'. To the young people in Wales, the Sports Centre (WIS) is Welsh sport and that is what they look for. It is absolutely marvellous."

It is also marvellous that a true unsung hero among sport across Wales is recognised for his contributions - but don't think Court is retiring now that he has won this award. 

He may be in his seventies but he is determined to provide Wales with more Special Games competitors - as well as giving new participants, like that seven-year-old girl thirty years ago, the chance to express themselves in a sport they may never have bothered with had it not been for a great man from Cardiff.