On October 2nd 2012 the International Olympic Committee (IOC) met in Copenhagen and determined that Rio de Janeiro, Brazil would be the host of the 2016 Olympic Games ahead of Madrid, Chicago, and Tokyo.
Now, four years later, the birthplace of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu (BJJ) is hosting the 2016 Summer Olympics. It is the first time in history that the Summer Olympics are being hosted in South America. Journalists from all over the world are televising events and informative pieces that showcase Brazil’s rich culture. The colorful food markets, amazing beaches, Samba, Capoeira, Carnaval, and Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu are lighting up television screens around the world.
It would have been a historic opportunity to showcase Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu as a sport, and not only as part of the country’s culture. Unfortunately, BJJ is not going to be part of the 2016 or 2020 Olympic Games, not even as an exhibition sport, because it is not yet recognized as an Olympic sport by the IOC
However, we all witnessed the many members of the BJJ community that carried the Olympic torch, many hoping for a chance to compete in the near future
It is now that the BJJ community is questioning why BJJ is not yet an Olympic sport. It is important that as a community we understand that the sport of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu is fairly new, present day entities in BJJ, the process of becoming an Olympic sport, as well as its benefits.
The sport of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu was founded in 1967 with the founding of the Jiu-Jitsu Federation of Guanabara by five founding schools led by Hélio Gracie, Alvaro Barreto, Joao Alberto Barreto, Hélcio Leal Binda and Oswaldo Fadda. It is here that the first steps in making Jiu-Jitsu a sport were taken and the art began to have structure and organization, evident in the implementation of a belt system, age division, competition time, points, and legal techniques.
Until recently, Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu had been primarily organized by the International Brazilian JiuJitsu Federation (IBJJF) . The IBJJF is a private, for profit organization that has existed for many years and has played an important role in helping BJJ develop on an international level.
However, IBJJF is not a non-profit organization with a democratic system and has not shown any interest in developing BJJ into an Olympic sport. There is presently no system in place for members to vote on rules or decisions regarding the future of the federation or sport. The president and owner of the IBJJF master Carlos Gracie Jr. is also the owner of Gracie Barra a well known BJJ Association, which has academies around the globe.
The IBJJF competition rules have also been questioned for fair play due to the fact that referees can give advantage points or make final decisions on matches. Also, although the IBJJF has a bracket software, till this day the IBJJF authorizes the bigger teams to have an input on the match making of the brackets that often gives the advantage to their own students. Many times the rules and system in place leads to unfair competition for competitors of smaller teams or foreign countries.
These factors, in addition to the fact that IBJJF has stated that it will not pursue BJJ becoming an Olympic sport because they do not consider beneficial for the sport, have deterred BJJ’s development into an Olympic sport with this organization.
Recently, within the BJJ community there is a growing Olympic movement that has paralleled the emergence of 3 organizations fighting for a spot in the Olympic Games. The question is which one is the right one?
The United World Wrestling (UWW) is one of the federations fighting for a spot in the Olympic Games. However, under this federation Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu will be called Olympic Grappling as the UWW unites all grappling arts such as Judo, Sambo, Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, Wrestling, etc. Until recently, the closest sport to Jiu-Jitsu in the Olympic was Judo under the Judo International Federation (JIF) and Catch Wrestling under the International Federation of Associated Wrestling Styles (FILA).
However, due to corruption and bribes running the FILA organization, the organization was disbanded and absorbed into the UWW. With the UWW take over; catch wrestling has seen a drastic change to it’s rules and it is now more closely resembles Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu than Catch Wrestling, now having Gi and No Gi divisions. However, it is still not the Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu that many of know and love. There are major differences in the rules as well as the name.
Supporting the UWW would require huge sacrifices of the BJJ community that in many ways would discredit and strip
our art and sport of its traditions and name. The UWW does not have a belt ranking system, rather it ranks athletes based on competitor results in competitions. Under the UWW,the BJJ belt ranking system would be invalidated and black belts would be considered equal to all grappling practitioners. In competitions or the Olympic Games, regardless of which grappling art won, the champion would be called a world wrestling-grappling champion.
The Ju-Jitsu International Federation (JJIF) is another federations fighting for a spot in the Olympic Games. The JJIF is not a Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu federation, it is a Ju Jitsu federation (traditional Japanese Ju Jitsu), but due to also having an Olympic movement for their own sport and not having enough proof of international participants in their sport they have now allied themselves with the United Arabic Emirates (UAE) and adopted the name of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu as a part of their organization, now called Ne-Waza.
The UAE is one of the richest organizations due to its oil money that has invested millions of dollars in creating events around the globe. These events have helped develop international recognition of our athletes as well as awarding athletes with money prizes. However, most people have not paid much attention to the discrepancy between the sport that the UAE and JJIF represent and Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu due to the glamour and monetary prizes provided by the UEA. This has blinded the BJJ community from the simple fact that in supporting the UEA’s alliance with the JJIF, Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu will become a sub sport known as the 4th part of Ju-Jitsu, now called Ne-Waza.
Together, the UAE/ JJIF has adopted rules that are similar to the IBJJF rules system for the Ne-Waza part. However, supporting the UAE and JJIF would also require significant sacrifices of the BJJ community because this federation validates all Ju-Jitsu black belts as Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu black belts and it also make Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu an inferior sport to the Ju-Jitsu art since the Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu competitors only compete in the Ne-Waza part of the competitions.
In the last 4 years we have seen an Olympic movement of our own with the emergence and development of the Sport Jiu-Jitsu International Federation (SJJIF) The SJJIF is a much younger federation that seems very promising for the BJJ community as it is a nonprofit organization with the mission of taking Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu to the Olympics.
TheSJJIF was founded by a group of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu professors who have stated that the founding of the SJJIF was due to the belief that Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu and its community deserved to have a federation in which its members had the right to vote as well as having its proceeds reinvested in the sport.
With the intent of organizing and providing the BJJ community with fair competition, the SJJIF has its own rules which preserve the traditional Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu point system, but without the use of advantages and in the case of a tie score at the end of a match, the match goes to a sudden death tie breaker where the first athlete to get points or submission wins.
Presently, the SJJIF is working to develop or ally themselves with National Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu Federations around the globe that are willing to align themselves with the SJJIF guidelines.
The SJJIF and its federations have not only hosted competitions to rank top competitors internationally, but have also organized community events to unite the Jiu-Jitsu community. However, the SJJIF is a new federation and needs the support of all of the BJJ community to make their mission a reality.
As to which federation will take our sport, Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, or something similar to the Olympics, only time will tell.
The road to becoming an Olympic sport is definitely not easy. Federations need to follow the extensive IOC guidelines that include being a non-profit organization, having over 62 national federations with male and female participants, and adopting the anti-doping rules set by the WADA.
The hard road to becoming an Olympic sport has brought another question to the forefront for many athletes of the BJJ community. What would be the benefits of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu becoming an Olympic sport? The most prominent benefit would be the possibility of our BJJ athletes gaining international recognition as an Olympian and having the opportunity to represent their nation in such a prestigious and world recognized event. In addition, the fact that all federations would have to democratically work together, embracing Olympism and the ideals of equality, fair play, community, cultural and social development, health, education, social integration and progress would have a deeper, greater, and long-lasting impact for our sport. Our sport and its athletes would be able to pursue greater financial opportunities by landing larger sponsorships, as they are nationally or internationally recognized athletes of an Olympic sport.
Today lets compare the sponsorship of our athletes to Olympians:
Usain Bolt VS Marcus Almeida “Buchecha”
Michael Phelps VS Roger Gracie
Teddy Riner VS Marcelo Garcia
Roger Federer VS Andre Galvāo
LeBron James VS Leandro Lo
Maria Sharapova VS Mackenzie Dern
Serena Williams VS Gabrielle Garcia “Gabi”
Caroline Wozniacki VS Michelle Nicolini
It is an unfair comparison to our athletes since they are being compared to well known Olympians. A better comparison may be by looking at the recent prizes awarded by the Judo International Federation in their international competitions.
These comparisons demonstrate the potential for our sport, athletes, and coaches to profit and benefit from their hard work and dedication to our sport.
The intent of this article is to inform the BJJ community of the present day options that we have for our sport’s future. Together, we can help create a future for our sport and its practitioners.