Without fail, every Olympic year the topic of getting Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu into the games comes up. I remember being a white belt in 2008 and hearing that conversation during the Beijing Olympic games—Same thing during London Olympics in 2012, and now again in 2016 with the games being held in Brazil. We get excited seeing judo and wrestling on the world stage, and we wish our beautiful art could be on it too.
But after all this time, we are no closer than we were in 2008. BJJ still hasn't crossed any of the major hurdles required to become an Olympic sport. To even be considered for the Olympics, a sport needs to meet specific requirements, such as: 1) having an international federation that can be recognized by the International Olympic Committee; 2) following the IOC drug testing policies; 3) and having an agreed upon ruleset that appeals to the masses. BJJ meets none of these.
First, the lack of an international governing body: “But wait, isn't that the IBJJF?”
Despite what the name suggests, the International Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu Federation does not qualify as an organization the IOC would recognize. The IBJJF is a for-profit company owned and operated by Carlos Gracie, Jr. without a board of elected members in accordance with the Olympic charter. Similarly, ADCC and Abu Dhabi Pro would not qualify because they are overseen by government agencies. Rickson Gracie’s Jiu-Jitsu Global Federation could be heading in the right direction with their commission, and I hope their tournaments grow in popularity since they are pushing us in the right direction. Perhaps United World Wrestling (formerly FILA) could have pushed for submission grappling, but even they struggled to keep wrestling in the 2016 Olympics after almost losing their spot to sports like wushu, karate, and women's netball.
Second, doping in BJJ has not really been addressed. We added the Band-Aid measure of testing wining black belt athletes at Pans and Worlds, but this is not compliant with WADA testing. BJJ is going to have to deal with the elephant in the room at some point. There have been doping allegations for years, and whispers of “la bomba” are all too common. Out-of-competition testing would help to sanitize the sport, since doping tests are easy to beat if you can plan out your “supplement plan” to dodge a test date.
Third, how do we make the sport exciting to the masses? Once you become an Olympic sport, you need certain numbers of attendance at not only the Olympic event, but your world championships as well. This was one of the reasons wrestling was almost taken out of the games and why judo keeps messing with their rules. How do we make BJJ exciting -- longer sub only matches, shorter points matches, more severe stalling penalties, penalize guard pulling to push the bottom player into action and encourage more takedowns?
The more we look at these options, the more the community starts to worry that making BJJ more exciting for spectators could actually detract from what makes being a BJJ competitor and hobbyist enjoyable. It’s a tough challenge, but formats like EBI and Polaris are starting to make some ground on this front, potentially.
This year, I have thoroughly enjoyed watching Olympic Judo, and I am looking forward to wrestling on Sunday. I hope one day I can look forward to seeing BJJ in the Olympics. But that will have to remain a distant dream for now.