This year's Abu Dhabi World Professional Jiu-Jitsu Championships represent a major, sweeping change for jiu-jitsu as a competitive sport. The UAE Jiu-Jitsu Federation made the bold move of introducing country-qualifiers at the prestigious event, in which athletes from each country compete against their fellow nationals for the chance to represent their respective countries in the final stages of the World Pro.
What this means is that we will see much more broadly distributed podium results in terms of winning countries. The idea here is to help jiu-jitsu grow beyond what it is today, and into something that is represented on the world stage by more nations than just the competitive powerhouse that is Brazil (and perhaps the USA to a lesser degree in the most recent years).
Some may feel that this change will only serve to dilute the talent on the podium, effectively filtering out top athletes from the most competitive countries, while allowing lower ranked athletes (lower ranked in terms of UAEJJF world competition rankings, that is) pass through to the final stages of the event simply because they come from countries with a less developed talent pool. And that sentiment is not entirely wrong, not in the short term at least. But the UAEJJF is playing the long-game, making strategic changes that will be good for jiu-jitsu's future... and most importantly for the higher-ups at the UAEJJF, good for jiu-jitsu's chance at Olympic viability.
The new Director of Finance and Marketing at the UAEJJF, Mr. Mohamed Al Marzooqi, has taken on his newly appointed position with the objective in mind of helping jiu-jitsu to reach Olympic status by 2024. As he knows, it's a tall order, as a lot needs to happen between now and then in order for the IOC (International Olympic Committee) to recognize a sport like jiu-jitsu as viable for Olympic competition. Namely, the IOC requires a minimum number of national federations officially representing a given sport around the world, and favours sports that are broadly contested across many parts of the world and not dominated by a small number of nations. But all of the UAEJJF's strategic decisions keep these objectives top of mind.
So instead of an all-Brazilian podium lineup in most of the categories of this year's Abu Dhabi World Pro, we'll likely be seeing lots of different flags being waved during the medal ceremonies. To be clear, this change is GOOD for jiu-jitsu, even if it may mean some growing pains in the short-term. But if you love the gentle art, and you genuinely want it to grow and flourish and have a meaningful future as a competitive sport, then this change is one that you need to support.
Perhaps one day we will all look back and reminisce about the days when jiu-jitsu was dominated by Brazilian competitors. Hopefully at that time, jiu-jitsu will be a truly worldly sport, with deep penetration into nations across the globe (both in terms of competition and community culture), and countless non-profit national federations on every continent and in every region, each managing the competitive jiu-jitsu circuit in their respective geographies. When that day comes, jiu-jitsu will have a small rule-change like this one to thank, at least in part, for the help. Sometimes a little intervention can go a long way.
To all those watching at home, enjoy the final two days of the 2017 Abu Dhabi World Pro! Lots of incredible match-ups to come, plus some exciting 'Legends' fights. Stay tuned to @jits_magazine on Instagram for updates.