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Sacrifices for Success: Kavan Majidi's Journey as a Refugee in Judo

Kavan at the 2023 World Judo Championships in Doha

Just training is not going to make you a champion. Your life discipline, who you are, what you do, how you talk - this is going to make you a champion. This is why I love judo.

From the age of 16, Kavan Majidi knew he was going to change the trajectory of his life to pursue his dream of becoming a judo champion. What he did not envision were the sacrifices he would have to make on his path towards success or the challenges he would face navigating the world as a refugee.

Kavan began judo at the age of 15 after his gymnastics coach took him along to watch a class at a local club. At the time Kavan didn’t know what judo was, but from that first step onto the tatami, he knew that judo was the sport for him. Now devoting all of his time to training, Kavan travelled across Iran to compete for regional and national titles, quickly cementing his place on the Iranian national judo team less than 2 years after starting the sport. Judo swiftly became the focal point of Kavan’s life; it was his passion, his motivator and it propelled him toward aspirations of becoming Olympic and World Champion.

At age 16, Kavan realised that to become a champion and build a successful judo career, he would have to depart his home country of Iran for Europe. Despite his determination and devotion to judo, his family insisted he was too young and forbade him from leaving. It wasn’t until 4 years later, at the age of 20, that Kavan ultimately decided to leave his family, his friends, his home and everything he knew behind to chase his dream and create a better life for himself.

This choice did not come easy. Kavan battled with the guilt and heartache of leaving his family behind, particularly his mother, father and younger sister. Travelling alone across land and sea, with no idea of the struggles he was going to face during his journey, Kavan often contemplated if he had made the right choice, or if he should turn back and return to Iran. Yet the vision of achieving success, and the ability such success would bring to build a better life for himself and his family, is what gave Kavan the resilience to continue on his journey towards Europe and to Scotland; where he would ultimately settle as a refugee.

Nothing mattered to me, the only thing that was important to me was my sport. I didn’t care about anything or anyone in my way. I could only see one thing: judo. Judo is my life and I am proud to be a judo fighter, we fight.”

Image credit: Fergus Pirie Photography

When Kavan arrived in Glasgow in November of 2020, three months after leaving Iran, he had to build a new life for himself in an unfamiliar country from scratch. With no money and only a brief grasp of the English language, Kavan worked three jobs simultaneously to financially support himself. Unfamiliar with the concept of being a refugee, or the challenges such a title would raise in his journey towards his goals, Kavan credits the kindness of strangers who noticed his struggle and helped him settle in his new surroundings by providing guidance, meals and most importantly, friendship,

I feel safe here, more comfortable. I am someone for myself now. I can build a better future for myself, for my family.”

A crucial component in building Kavan’s new life in Scotland and moving closer to his dream of becoming a champion was finding a judo club, which brought him to Pro Judo in Glasgow where he resumed his training before travelling to Edinburgh to train alongside Scotland’s best judoka at EdinburghJudo and the National Training Centre in Ratho, 

When I came to EdinburghJudo on the first night I started training, I saw that everyone is a judo fighter, that they are real judo fighters. It made me feel so happy! I see that this is my place, finally, I found it.”

After his first few months of training in Scotland, Kavan was offered the opportunity to compete at the 2021 Scottish National Championships and the 2022 Scottish Open in the -66KG category, where he topped the podium in both events. Following these results, Kavan was in contact with the coach of the IJF Refugee Team, who upon hearing he was competing in the 2022 Scottish National Championships came to watch his performance. After 6 gruelling fights, Kavan claimed the gold medal and successfully secured his place on the International Judo Federation’s refugee team,

They shook my hand, said welcome to the refugee team and I was so happy. Finally, there is a back number on my judogi that says I am part of a refugee team and I can fight for a team, for a family.

Kavan wins the -66KG final at the 2022 Scottish National Championships Image credit: Fergus Pirie Photography

Support from the International Judo Federation has allowed Kavan to travel across the globe to take part in international training camps and to compete in ranking events on the IJF World Tour as part of the refugee team. This support has provided Kavan with opportunities not previously accessible to him when he was based in Iran, but such opportunities have not come without repercussions. 

As part of the World Judo Tour, Kavan competed in Israel and as a result, he can no longer return to Iran due to the ongoing political conflict between both countries. The decision to compete in Israel, and therefore sacrificing the ability to return to his home country, was not an easy one to make but one that had to be made for the sake of his dream. If he was going to build his judo career on the international stage, Kavan would inevitably come to share the tatami with an Israeli judoka, or compete at an event in Israel,

Maybe people think I made the wrong decision, I had my reason for what I decided. I don't see any reason why we shouldn't be friendly with other people because of a flag that creates borders.

Kavan at the 2023 IJF Grand Slam in Tel Aviv

The inability to return to Iran has not prevented Kavan from supporting his family from his newfound home in Scotland. He speaks to his parents and his younger sister every day via phone or video call and they often write to each other too. Kavan hopes that one day the political dynamic between Iran and Israel will be resolved and he will be able to return to his home country and reunite with his family. Otherwise, he will bring his family to the UK and create a new life for them there, much like he has done for himself,

I support my family because I want them to have more and when I build up my life, trust me, I am going to make it the best life for them. I can not give back what they did for me, but I can try my best.

As we approach this year’s Olympic Games in Paris, Kavan remains dedicated to securing a spot as the -73KG representative for the Olympic Refugee Team through strong performances in upcoming IJF World Judo Tour events. With the support of his family in Iran, the International Judo Federation and the community he has found in Scotland, Kavan moves closer to transforming the dream he envisioned at 16 years old into reality. Looking beyond his aspirations of becoming a champion, Kavan aspires to give back to future generations. Whether through teaching at a university sports program, pursuing a career as a physiotherapist, or working to help fellow refugees, he envisions a future where he can make a meaningful impact on the lives of others,

This world is like a circle. In the Persian language, we have a proverb that says ‘Do good and throw it in the Tigris’, the meaning of this is to do good to others because the return of this goodness and benevolence is ultimately to the individual himself. That is, the good deeds that we do in the time of comfort, will be arrested by God in the time of hardship.


Interview and article written by Andrea Robertson


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