BJJ is among the fastest-growing martial arts and a popular grappling sport worldwide. But is BJJ an Olympic sport?
Brazilian jiu-jitsu is not an official Olympic sport, nor is there a sign that it will soon become a part of the games. The key issues are the lack of a unified governing body and the standardization of rules and styles.
Let’s further explore why BJJ is not included in the Olympic Games and what the sport needs to do to receive such a privilege.
Why Is BJJ Not In The Olympics?
The majority of reasons are related to the organizational structure of BJJ. What’s stopping it from being included in the Olympics is the lack of a unified governing body and differences in rules.
Let’s look at all the key reasons why BJJ is not an Olympic sport.
The Lack Of A Unified Governing Body
BJJ has been around since the 1920s, and different governing bodies have emerged worldwide over the years. The problem is that each organization has its rules, policies, and regulations. Although some are considered major ones, BJJ still doesn’t have a single, unified governing body and standardized set of rules.
According to the Olympic Committee, only sports with one or a unified governing body can be included in the Olympics. This means one standardized set of rules, policies, and requirements related to which athletes can go to the Olympics. Jiu-jitsu is problematic because there are more than a few organizations, such as IBJJF, ADCC, and NAGA.
To launch BJJ into the Olympics, heads from these governing bodies need to sit down and devise a solution. They either need to create a new governing body or decide which existing ones will represent the sport.
Other martial arts, such as Taekwondo, had the same problem. This martial art includes many governing bodies such as ATA, ITF, and WT. The Olympic Committee accepted WT as the official style and solved the problem. And we may expect BJJ to come out with a similar solution.
Too Many Rules And Styles
Each BJJ governing body has its own rules, which is not what the Olympic Committee seeks. Athletes across different organizations compete under different rules, each emphasizing certain areas of the game. From uniforms and techniques to athletes’ strategies in a fight, the rules vary significantly between organizations.
To become a part of the Olympics, there has to be one well-codified rule set.
For example, one of the biggest debates would be which style of BJJ would be included: Gi or No-Gi? A gi is a traditional style where athletes wear a uniform similar to the one in Judo. No-gi grapplers compete without it, which entirely changes the concept of grappling.
Conceptually Similar Martial Arts Are Already Included
Olympic Games already have conceptually similar martial arts, such as wrestling and Judo. Thus, there would not be much interest in a new sport that shares similar concepts, techniques, and rules as the existing ones.
For example, BJJ originates from Judo, and the two arts share similar techniques. The Gracie family used Judo as a base to develop jiu-jitsu. They modified judo techniques and changed the emphasis from throws to ground fighting. But the core concept remained the same; in the eyes of the viewers and laymen, it visually looks the same.
Jiu-jitsu athletes wear the same uniform as their colleagues from Judo (judogi). Next, each grappling exchange begins on the feet, where the goal is to take the opponent down using throws, trips, and sweeps.
Once on the ground, you must subdue the opponent with chokes, joint locks, or by getting into a dominant position. Although different, there are too many similarities between Judo and BJJ.
And the same stands for No-Gi style, which, on the other side, looks a lot like wrestling. Due to the lack of uniform and less friction, athletes rely more on strength, speed, and athleticism and adopt many wrestling moves. For instance, wrestling takedowns like single/double leg, including top control, are common in no-gi grappling.
Not Enough Interest
BJJ is a popular combat sport and has a strong community. However, Olympic events also need to sell tickets and gain viewership from people not trained in martial arts.
Thus, they look for exciting and dynamic sports. BJJ is a highly technical and complex sport, but not entertaining enough for untrained people.
For instance, this is why the IOC is considering removing wrestling and Judo events from the Olympics. And one of the key reasons is the lack of interest in these sports. Or in other words, these martial arts competitions do not sell tickets and bring profit.
Now, if they are ready to remove wrestling, which has been part of the games since Ancient times and the early Olympiads, why would they add BJJ, which is conceptually similar?
From the martial arts perspective, jiu-jitsu should be included in the games. But from the business point of view, probably not. The IOC targets a broader audience, not just people from the BJJ world.
Will Jiu-Jitsu Ever Be An Olympic Sport?
BJJ is expanding at a high rate. In terms of popularity, it meets the requirements to be included in the Olympics. However, the popularity on its own is not enough for the sport to be included in the games. In fact, it’s unlikely the world will see IOC accepting BJJ in the near future. The IOC has strict criteria BJJ is not matching in many aspects.
BJJ is meeting some requirements, notably the ones related to how widespread the sport is. According to IOC, the sport must be practiced in 75 countries across four continents. And there have to be women practitioners in 40 countries across three continents.
In short, BJJ meets these criteria as it is practiced in over 100 countries worldwide. It also includes rules such as weight divisions, and IBJJF has also introduced anti-doping policies to ensure fair play.
Lastly, jiu-jitsu made a big step toward the Olympics when the sport was included in the “World Combat Games (WCG).” WCG is often seen as a stepping stone to Olympic inclusion. It opened up discussions between the IBJJF and IOC about the possibility of BJJ entering the Games.
Although significant progress has been made, many key problems are waiting for a solution, which will take a while.
Is Jiu-Jitsu In The Commonwealth Games?
Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu is not a part of the Commonwealth Games. It has never been, and there are no indications it will be included soon.
This is because in October 2021, the CGF announced the list of sports they will add starting with the 2026 Games, and BJJ is not on this list.
As far as martial arts are concerned, only boxing remains included in the Games. Previously, Judo, freestyle, and Greco-Roman styles of wrestling were part of the games. However, these three martial arts got dropped after featuring in the 2022 Games.
At first glance, BJJ might seem to meet all the criteria to be at the Olympics. It is a safe sport with a long history and strong community, well-spread worldwide, and fun to watch. But this on its own is not enough for the sport to be a part of the games.
BJJ as a sport needs to solve many issues, notably when creating the main Governing Body and standardized set of rules. Without it, the sport won’t even receive an invitation to participate as a demonstration sport.
Over history, other Olympic martial arts such as Taekwondo, Karate, and Wrestling have faced similar problems and have managed to find the solution. And let’s hope BJJ will find one too.