29 January 2024



They are always on the mat, they are part of each tournament, yet only get efficient attention when a contest is paused. Sometimes, coaches do go after them and question their every move, for the greater good, so they say. Some athletes also feel the need to act as one. However, there is only one of them in them middle of the tatami. That’s right, our focus is shifting towards our referees. 

In a few months, the official selection of referees for Paris 2024 Olympic and Paralympic Games will be revealed. Just like all athletes, referees also having to go through a robust qualifying period. Some of them are on repeat mode from previous summer games whilst others are considered as newbie, marking a significantly important mark not only in their own career, but also for their respected national federation. The top 36 on the ranking list will be eligible to be selected to be part of the Paris crew. 14 goes for the Olympics whilst 12 will fulfil their duties at the Paralympics. There are additional elements to be selected as a referee, however, Lisa’s story is unrelated to those. 

Great Britain never had a female referee to go to an Olympics before. Marion Woodard was the last British female referee to go to a Senior World Championships in 1999, whilst Dave Martin refereed at a Senior Worlds in 2010. The last British referee at an Olympics was Peter Bent in 1984 whilst David Stanley refereed at the Paralympics in London 2012. Woodard’s journey inspired many, including International licensed referee, Lisa HARRISON (a.k.a. Lisa Rivers). The British referee also looked up to and merited knowledge from former IJF B licensed referee, Clare Greenwood. The Brits have a solid women’s elite team. Lisa is adding to the female force on the mat, only in a different uniform, and sooner or later she is about to create something rather remarkable.

British female force: International referee, Lisa Harrison and world class judoka, Lucy Renshall (GBR). © Lisa Harrison

Lisa’s route to refereeing was clear cut from a young age as she had no interest in going to any prestigious event as an athlete. She was a gymnast, before heavily pouring her passion and dedication onto the tatami. In fact, she engaged with refereeing matters as early as at the age of 10. 

That right, when I was 10 years old my coach held a refereeing course at our club and encouraged us all to attend. I went with my friends and passed my junior 1st level award. All my friends were fighters and referees, and it was another thing to add to my judo. 

Lisa’s first ‘live action’ was in November 1991 at the Sussex yellow belt and under. Memories to recall? 

I was still 10 years old and an orange belt. It was so exciting, and I loved being in a uniform and felt incredibly important. I was allowed in the refereeing room which set me apart from my friends and I loved the whole experience. 

Lisa continued through the junior refereeing grades obtaining junior level 3 which was the top level on her 15thbirthday. Upon going to university, her coach at the time was one of the top GB national referees and he took Lisa around to plenty national competitions. 

We had a little group of referees that all went round together, and I loved the camaraderie that came with it.

By 2005, Lisa gained her national refereeing licence. 

It was then I became determined to head towards my International refereeing award. In 2015 I passed my Continental Licence and in 2019 my International Licence which was one of my greatest achievements. I became the 1st GB woman to go from Junior level 1 to International referee. The only other person in GB to do this was my husband, Martin, who achieved his International Award the year before me!

I have had lots of support over the years but my husband Martin has had the biggest influence on my refereeing career especially when I was watching him as a Continental referee and I was a national referee. I used to tune into Judo TV to watch the event and we would review the contests and discuss it together which only helped bring us both on as referees. 

Passing my International licence came with a mix of excitement and relief. I had a great weekend refereeing with some fantastic people, and we really supported each other through which made such a big difference. 

My first event was the Islamic Games in Konya, Turkey in September 2022. It was exciting meeting referees I had only seen refereeing on the TV but also, I was extremely nervous. I remember thinking how lucky I was to have this opportunity, so I was determined not to waste it. 

I love to travel and becoming an IJF referee has given me some amazing opportunities to go to countries I hadn’t thought of. 

Apart from the Olympics/Paralympics and the Worlds, the third most prestigious event to referee at is the Paris Grand Slam, which ironically will take place this weekend. To be part of this tournament is a goal of many athletes as well as referees and Lisa already had the privilege to experience it.

Paris is certainly my favourite tournament to referee at, just for the sheer atmosphere and prestige of the event. My most memorable contest actually took place there as well, with Lasha Bekauri vs Maxime-Gael Ngayap Hambou. 

The contest was only a second round fight and the Frenchman was the underdog on paper. As we went into GS the crowd got behind him and wow the energy in the room was electric. When he threw the Georgian, the crowd went mad, and it was a noise and feeling I will never forget.

Paris seminar 2023 © Lisa Harrison

Now, there is no secret, being a judo referee is not amongst the top 10 paid jobs. Passion is a different story; therefore, most of our referees do have a day-to-day job too. During the week Lisa is a manager in Social Services and she runs the Occupational Therapy Service at her local area, Crawley.

We assist people who are disabled to enable them stay living in their own home. When I’m not at work, I help to coach and run my local judo club [Kin Ryu Judo Club] and we have just over 200 athletes, all enjoying judo at all levels. 

At work. © Lisa Harrison

That is passion…! If you have ever watched a tournament either live or via judotv.com, you see the athletes expressing a severe level of nervousness, as walking into the middle of the contest area is an ‘all eyes on you’ matter. Well, in actual reality, the first people to enter the field of play are the referees. They stand with heavy concentration before they call the first ‘hajime’…and just like that, their presence vanishes and as unruffled as they look, they also get nerves. How about you Lisa? 

I always feel nervous, but I have learned to manage it better over the past few years. I have had great advice from colleagues to help me, and the more experience I get the better at managing my nerves I have become. 

Although, she will not be refereeing at the Paris Grand Slam this weekend, she is assigned to Austria and Georgia. With that, she remains focused and still hopes to check-in to the ‘city of love’ this summer, fully suited and booted. 

I’m not sure if I can put into words what it would mean to me. This would surpass my expectations and I would be incredibly proud to represent my country at the most prestigious event in the world.

Being part of a team is hugely important to me whilst also performing individually. I love watching and analysing judo and there is no better view than the centre of the mat. 

In action at the European Judo Championships 2022. © Gabi Juan

Lisa’s open minded, humbled, willing to learn and driven approach is her solid foundation towards her constant improvement, creating a well overdue piece of history to British Judo. 

I still have a few years left as an International referee and I have great support at home to keep going and achieve my dreams.

I am enjoying coaching my athletes and other referees and seeing them progress in the sport. I hope to inspire others in GB to following their refereeing goals and head into international refereeing.


Country, HometownGreat Britain, Crawley
RankingEJU: 19   IJF/Olympic ranking: 36
Favourite techniqueUchi-Mata
Study / Qualifications BSc (Hons) Degree in Occupational Therapy
ProfessionOccupational Therapist
The most memorable contest refereed Lasha Bekauri vs Maxime-Gael Ngayap Hambou at the Paris Grand Slam
Biggest lesson learned so farTo not worry about the things you cannot control. Just keep working hard and moving forward and no matter what you will achieve your best.  
MottoKeep calm and carry on
BeveragesPepsi Max
AnimalI love my Koi Carp
SongA Thousand Years by Christina Perry 
BookAnything by Jodi Picoult
MovieImitation Game
Day of the week Friday, it’s the gateway to the weekend!
Trait Honesty
Top 5 bucket list Go to an Olympics
Go Whale watching
Fly in a Hot Air Balloon
Go on Safari
See the Northern Lights

Author: Szandra Szogedi