The Curious Case of BJJ Referees

By Cassidee Moser, for BJJ Legends Magaizne:

During the 2004 Mundials, Ronaldo “Jacare” Souza sustained a broken arm while trying to escape an armlock from Roger Gracie’s guard. Instead of ending the match, the referee re-started it, allowing the severely injured “Jacare” to continue, and he was eventually crowned champion over Gracie via point victory.

This upset alone turned attention on the somewhat underdeveloped role of officiating in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu.

In many ways, a referee’s job is an unforgiving and thankless one. They are the backbone of any organization, have the first and last say on the mat, and are responsible for running tournaments smoothly, ensuring safety, enforcing rules, and scoring.

Often seen as one of the biggest faults of competitions, they have long been accused of neglect, bias, and poor decision-making. [blockquote class=”quotes”]In light of these accusations, great strides have been taken by several organizations to improve the roles of referees.[/blockquote]

Many times, smaller tournaments are the biggest offenders, simply because of their use of unpaid volunteers to serve as officials. These volunteers may have affiliations with competitors, don’t have as much knowledge of rules and officiating, and aren’t necessarily as invested in the matches.

In light of these accusations, great strides have been taken by several organizations to improve the roles of referees.

For larger tournaments, most referees are paid staff and must meet certain requirements in order to qualify for the job. Amateur organizations, such as NAGA and Grappler’s Quest, require their candidates to know the rules of both the organization and the IBJJF, spend certain amounts of time in courses or live competition, and hold a minimum rank in a grappling art. Professional organizations, such as the IBJJF and the European FILA require courses, tests, and certifications under the organization in order to officiate.

A new idea that many organizations are beginning to implement is the use of one mat judge to assist the referee. According to the FILA rules, the mat judge would be in charge of recording and keeping score, watching the match closely, and would serve as an outside source of objectivity should a dispute arise.

While the concept is still new, it has become attractive to tournament organizers and is slowly finding its way into rule books.

Would Gracie have won under the eyes of a more qualified referee? Would the use of a mat judge have changed the outcome? We’ll never know. But, as the sport continues to grow, tournaments will evolve, rules will change, and officiating will become more intact.

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