If it wasn’t for the COVID-19 lockdown on industries and sporting facilities nationwide and the structured routine of a young autisic boy that enjoys the sport of kickboxing, the Cimac Superleague Virtual Open Tournament may never have been considered let alone become the history making event that it was.
£1,265.00 was raised for the Young Minds Charity by the first ever Cimac Superleague virtual kickboxing tournament with 36 individual divisions contested by 90 competitors.
Participants set up their computers, laptops, tablets and phones, checked their wifis and cleared spaces in their bedrooms, kitchens, living rooms, workspaces, garages, gardens and patios in preparation for their events, where they could show their skills off to the judges of the World Association Kickboxing Organisation (WAKO).
The international judges, all of whom volunteered, were brought together through the magic of technology to assess the talents of the competitors and what a talent show it was.
Organiser Neville Wray (Vice President and Head Coach of WAKO GB) conceived the idea for the tournament after realising that one of the young pupils at his martial arts club was no longer taking part in the lessons after they went online when lockdown put a stop to the regular weekly sessions. Which was strange because Gregory was always early and he liked to stand right at the front of the class, but in the online classes he just sat at the back of his room and wouldn’t take part at all. When Neville asked his parents what was wrong they replied that Gregory was autistic and could not cope with change, and that he needed to be in front of Neville, in the class, and that he was missing his regular lesson badly. This made Neville realise just how much many young people were being affected by COVID and the added stress the pandemic was causing, so how could he inject some positivity into a very negative situation?
He decided to organise a virtual kickboxing tournament which would give young people something to train for, keep their minds occupied and get them looking forward to tournament activity, as well as helping other young people with their mental challenges through the Young Minds Charity. In his own words Neville said, ‘When I decided to put this event on, it took me a while to decide how it was going to work. A few things came into my thoughts, COVID, isolation, anxiety, stress, but most of all young people. Hence why I chose the Young Minds Charity to support, because one of their mottos is fighting for young people’s mental health, which is fitting due to us being from a combat sport background and the isolation that so many of us have felt at not being able to practice our sport.’
A win win situation.
To start with he enlisted the support of Sean Veira, (WAKO GB coach, former world champion) and Sharon Gill M.B.E. (WAKO GB coach, current world champion) for this first event and organised categories for all age groups from under nine year olds to over 18 year olds to include shadow fighting, kickboxing combinations, kicking drills as well footwork drills and blitzes.
The tournament took place over two consecutive Sundays in February, finishing with all the finals on the second Sunday along with some spectacular demonstrations by some world champions, who will probably be participating in the Olympic games, as WAKO are due to be included as a demonstration sport in 2024.
The judges made themselves ready and Ian Watkins from Sportdata kindly gave his time to record all the results on the Sportdata website as the match ups were being decided which helped the event to run really smoothly. Liz Ferioli-Brown managed the technology, making sure all the contestants who were waiting in the green room were in the right place at the right time and Linda Baxter as presenter did a stalwart job of organising the draws. She was calm and clear and kept the whole event running like clockwork.
Peter Edwards (President of WAKO GB) and Sean kept an informed and enthusiastic commentary going all day long, with a little help from friends, guest commentators, like Gordon Mitchell, Adrian Bedlow and Kevin Brewerton (zooming in all the way from America)
The standard of the competitors was truly great and very exciting, so there were many split decisions. Everyone was ‘on it like sonic’ and it made judging a very difficult but ultra rewarding job. And to think no one has been able to have any fight training for months. Time and time again the judges were amazed at the fitness and sharpness of the techniques demonstrated. All the comments they made when giving their decisions were very positive and everyone took away helpful advice to improve their skills for the next event. The atmosphere was brilliant — I didn’t know that Zoom could be that exciting.
After an appearance by Mr Romeo Deša WAKO IF (Technical Director, International Federation), who said how impressed he was by the smooth running of the event and the standard of those competing, there were some amazing guest appearances by three great points fighters, Timmy Sarantoudis in Germany, Jack Felton in America and Elijah Everill in the UK, finishing with the judges giving their verdicts on the fighters of the day.
Many amazing people gave their expertise and time behind the scenes, giving their support to make this very special charity event happen, and of course none of this could have happened without the incredible support of the participants, their parents, their families and their friends. The whole tournament was so well done, ran so smoothly and was so cool that my comment here can only be justified by some of the people involved as everyone enjoyed it so much and they put it so well:
Sean Veira: It was great working with coach Nev Wray and the team on the Cimac Superleague Virtual Charity Open.
Elizabeth Ferioli-Brown (official): All the competitors competed with such great passion and were stars of the show. It was amazing to be part of such a great team and being part of the event, with all the judges giving up their time and having to judge between such a high class of competitors, their jobs were far from easy. I want to shout it out as much as possible just how impressed I was with all that took part, not only did all the organisers, competitors, judges, backstage team, front stage, parents, spectators, guests of honour have a fantastic day, but all the money made at the event went to Young Minds Charity
Lynette Harvey (parent): Huge well done to Nev Wray and everyone else involved in the Cimac Virtual tournament in aid of Young Minds mental health charity...such a deserving cause where vital funds are much needed in order to provide the necessary resources and support to our youngsters.
Adrian Bedlow (judge): Great event.
Paige Stedman (competitor): Thank you for organising it. It was very fun!
Geoff Aldridge (judge): So proud to have played a part in the judging of the Cimac Virtual tournament today. Great opportunity for the kids to compete again and money raised for Young Minds!
And the competitors themselves - just wow! The standard was truly phenomenal
Paul Francis (coach): Great day spent watching Hayden compete in the Cimac Superleague Virtual Open.
Thank you to Nev Wray & team for a well run event!.
Lucy Gascoigne (parent): Great to see everyone’s faces again! Well done all of Kode Red.
Gurjit Gallon (judge): What an event. An amazing job from the organisers & the competitors were going all out showcasing what they have been working on quietly, during this whole time…I can't wait for the next one.
Young Minds were delighted with the money raised by the Cimac Superleague Virtual Tournament and they had this to say:
‘For more than 25 years Young Minds has been leading the fight for children and young people’s mental health. In that time, we have played an important role in bringing about many positive changes. The Covid-19 coronavirus pandemic is the biggest health crisis for generations and it has had a devastating impact. As a result, young people’s mental health is in the public and political spotlight like never before–during 2020 we did everything we could to support their emotional wellbeing and we just couldn’t do this without our amazing supporters which is why we are so grateful to the Cimac Superleague and their sponsored virtual kickboxing championship and to WAKO GB.’
Julia Garden, Young Minds.
Thankfully, the lockdown seems to be easing at this time but it’s still early days. We don’t know yet when we will all be able to enjoy the atmosphere and excitement of normal times, maybe later this year if we’re lucky. In the meantime the next virtual tournament is planned for the 18th and 25th April, which, going by how much this one was enjoyed, is definitely something to look forward to. We will be able to interact with fellow martial artists again, if only on screen, and continue to support another charitable organisation with their mission, Well Child, the national charity for sick children.
And finally last words from Neville ‘We would like to thank each and every one of you for the tremendous commitment and support by taking part in the event.’