Many Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu (BJJ) practitioners are clamoring at the idea of BJJ being in the Olympics. Even though the prospect of that happening at the moment seems low, wrestling was almost dropped and Karate has more international recognition and exposure than BJJ currently has. Unlike everyone else, I am not thrilled with the idea of having BJJ in the Olympics.
What would be the Benefits of the Olympics?
Many people who would like to see BJJ in the Olympics say it will give BJJ more exposure and promote BJJ competition. However, any exposure BJJ will get from being in the Olympics will be very little at best. Judo, Boxing, and Tae Kwon Do are already in the Olympics — how often do you see them featured during Olympic programming on television? Almost never! It is much more common to see swimming, volleyball, and gymnastics during the Olympics.
BJJ garners most of its interest from the UFC and MMA, in which BJJ is always a prominent art that is used. The Aldo-McGregor fight got 1.2 million pay per view sells and when the UFC is on the Fox channel it generates millions of viewership (2.8 million for the Dillashaw vs Barao 2 card); this in turn generates interest in BJJ. There are already frequent BJJ competitions around the world. Therefore, I don’t see that the Olympics could bolster the popularity of BJJ anymore than the popularity of fights already has.
The Case Against The Olympics
In addition to the lack of spotlight the Olympics would cast on the sport, the Olympics do not offer the benefit of payment. Competing athletes are not paid although they work hard their whole life and sacrifice much on their journey to get there. Ronda Rousey said that “The Olympics is a multi-multi- million dollar business and you really don’t see that many multi-million dollar athletes.” She went on to say that the Olympics has hypocrisy and corruption and “I saw athletes just struggling and giving up their whole lives and not getting a good education and not getting work experience and just trying to get these medals for their country and their own pride and afterward being left with nothing”.[i] However, the BJJ community is already solving this problem with organizations such as the Jiu-Jitsu World League which gives out prize money for all belts.
The additional problem with having BJJ in the Olympics is the problem of a centralized authority dictating rules and techniques for the sole purpose of having that sport be a better spectator sport. Yes, BJJ does have the International Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu Federation (IBJJF); however, the IBJJF is just a big and well known tournament. The IBJJF does not speak for all BJJ tournaments. In fact many other well-known BJJ competitions such as Jiu-Jitsu World League, Budo Challenge, Jiu-Jitsu Global Federation Rules, submission only tournaments, and even smaller tournament have different rules. The Olympics would create a centralized governing authority and codified rules for BJJ tournaments. BJJ has seen an explosion of new techniques and organic evolution in recent years. This is furthered by two things: information being readily available via channels such as Youtube, and different rules and organizations when it comes to competition. Different rules and competitions also keeps BJJ interesting and approachable to everyone from white belts to black belts.
Judo is a sport that has unfortunately been negatively affected by being in the Olympics. Many techniques are now restricted and creativity is stifled because the centralized authority of the International Judo Federation is more concerned with making Judo a good spectator sport for the Olympics instead of being concerned for the continued growth of the art. Judo has outlawed grabbing the opponent’s legs or pants when doing a takedown, some grips are not allowed, some grips have time limits, and it is not permitted to break an opponent’s grip with two hands. Some of these rules are as new as 2010 and 2013. Furthermore, ranked Judo athletes are not allowed to compete in BJJ or other grappling tournaments. All of this amounts to the IJF making it harder for non-Judo grapplers to compete in Judo tournaments and vice versa.
Please don’t think I am criticizing Judo as an art. Judo is a great art. I am criticizing the bureaucrats that are restricting Judo. Most of what people love about Brazilian Jiu-jitsu will be lost if BJJ enters the Olympics. Let’s keep BJJ decentralized, creative, and evolving.