The Olympics are among the most prestigious and widely-watched sporting events in the world, but would it actually be worth it for BJJ to be among the events offered? The Olympics comes around every four years and as of yet, there’s no sign of it being included as an available sport. There’s already a number of grappling events available in the Olympics like Judo and both Greco-Roman and freestyle wrestling. In fact, BJJ is probably the most popular grappling sport that is not currently available as an Olympic event and that popularity only continues to grow. It might be confusing to someone newer to the sport to see that BJJ isn’t part of this event, but there’s a few reasons for that.
Should BJJ Be In The Olympics?
A lot of people might focus on why BJJ isn’t in the Olympics, but a more important question to ask is whether it even should be. There are a lot of benefits to becoming an Olympic event, and a lot of drawbacks too. Just ask any Judoka or wrestling practitioner about their experiences in their respective sports and you’ll hear a lot of mixed opinions on the Olympic Games. There are a number of hurdles that need to be cleared in order for BJJ to be considered and it’s worth considering whether that’s worth doing, and whether the benefits would outweigh the drawbacks.
What Are The Benefits Of Being An Olympic Event?
One of the most obvious benefits to being an Olympic event is the access to funding. In many countries, government funding for sports is directly linked to whether or not that sport is an Olympic event. This makes sense too, because the Olympics provide a boost to the local economy every 4 years and provide a platform for athletes to develop. Profits from events outside the Olympics generally stay in the pockets of organizers and there’s no guarantee that athletes in those sports can reach a high level of success. If BJJ was in the Olympics then there would be a greater amount of financial support available for local academies and local events alike.
Alongside this, there’s also the fact that the Olympic Games is one of the most-watched sporting events available. It attracts millions of viewers from all around the world and although most of them are centered around certain marquee events like the 100m race, Judo and Wrestling also get plenty of attention. This would in turn help develop a sport like BJJ, because there will be people who discover the sport through the Olympics that may never have done so otherwise. This is something that major organizers like ADCC and the IBJJF simply can’t offer, because people would have to already be familiar with BJJ in order to watch them in the first place.
What Are The Drawbacks Of Being An Olympic Event?
BJJ has a lot to gain from being in the Olympics, but there’s potentially a lot to lose as well. Veteran Judoka know this better than anyone else, but being an Olympic event puts a lot of pressure on governing bodies to adapt their rules. Some of these changes are made in the name of safety, because the Olympics are spread over multiple days and a big part of the event is to provide role models for the next generation of athletes. It’s pretty hard to do that if the viewers see athletes ripping heel hooks at 100mph or willingly letting their arm break in order to win a match.
This means that some of the greatest moments in BJJ history would likely never happen at the Olympics, and chances are that a number of techniques would no longer be permitted in competition. Some changes to rules are also made in an effort to increase entertainment, because an event that people don’t enjoy watching can see itself removed from the schedule of the next Olympic Games. While this might seem like a great idea at first, it can also lead to perfectly viable techniques removed from the sport. For example, grabbing the leg is no longer allowed in Judo despite the fact that it’s one of the best ways to secure a takedown.
What’s Preventing BJJ From Being In The Olympics?
One of the main things that has been preventing BJJ from becoming part of the Olympics has been that it has not been an sport that attracts a high number of viewers historically. That has been changing in recent years though, as ADCC 2022 attracted over 10,000 fans to attend and was watched by multiple times more than that at home. While that might be enough to attract the attention of Olympic organizers, the fact remains that some of the most important figures in BJJ would lose out if the sport became an event at the Games. ADCC and the IBJJF are both for-profit organizations that would likely see a sizeable dent in their income if this ever happened.
One of the other main issues is that BJJ does not have any recognized governing body, or even a universally-recognized ruleset. While the IBJJF sometimes acts similarly to a governing body, they’re essentially a for-profit tournament organizer instead. Although their ruleset might be the most popular, there’s several tournaments out there using slightly different rulesets like NAGA and Grappling Industries. There’s also many tournaments contested under wildly different rules like ADCC, EBI, and submission only events. Without having a governing body to enforce a universal ruleset, it’s impossible for BJJ to ever become part of the Olympics.
Nobody can predict the future of course, but it takes years for any sport to be included in the Olympic Games. As that process hasn’t even started for BJJ yet, it’s incredibly unlikely that we see it as part of the Olympics any time soon. After all, there would need to be huge changes to the way the BJJ community works before this process can begin. Regardless, anything is possible over a long enough time frame. The fact remains though that there isn’t any real consensus in the sport at a grassroots level or any drive coming from the top of major organizations like ADCC and the IBJJF.
Without any support from the top and any wide support from the bottom, it seems as though BJJ will never become part of the Olympics. Maybe this is a good thing too, maybe being included in the Olympic Games would serve as a death sentence for the sport because it might take away a lot of what makes it popular in the first place. For now at least, submission grappling fans watching the Olympics will have to get their fill by settling for wrestling without submissions or watching elite Judoka using BJJ techniques to succeed when the match hits the ground.
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