Jiu-jitsu marches towards Olympic dream with 2022 Youth Games in its sights

JJIF president Theodoropoulos says Abu Dhabi has played a major role in promoting the sport worldwide


Rudson Mateus Teles (BRA), in black, wins the 85kg final against Faisal Al Ketbi (UAE)  at Abu Dhabi World Professional Jiu-Jitsu Championship at Mubadala Arena.

(Photo by Reem Mohammed/The National)

Reporter: AMITH
Section: SP

Jiu-jitsu missed the cut for the 2024 Olympics in Paris but chances of the sport making a first appearance at the 2022 Youth Olympics are high, according to the Jiu-Jitsu International Federation (JJIF) president Panagiotis Theodoropoulos.

"Our case for the Olympics will not come up for recognition until 2021 and that's too late for 2024," Theodoropoulos told The National on the sidelines of the JJIF World Championship at the Mubadala Arena on Monday.

“I’m certain our case will be heard and recognised in two years from now. There is a lot of martial arts in the Olympics. For instance, karate was included in 2020 but not in 2024.

“So, we have to keep working for 2028 but the good thing is that we get to start from the Youth Olympics. We have already started work for Dakar 2022.”

The martial arts sport made its bow at the 2018 Asian Games in Jakarta and is included in the Hangzhou 2022 games in China.

“The way jiu-jitsu has evolved we are certain it will eventually get into the Olympics, which is our long-term objective and dream,” said Theodoropoulos.

“But right now, we are excited about the prospect of jiu-jitsu at the Youth Olympics.

“The sport is already practiced widely in Senegal but we want to spread it far and wide to make it bigger, not only in the country but across the region.

“It’s very important for us because our strength is young people. We have discussed with the government of Senegal.

“Plans are already underway to stage an African Championship in Senegal next year. The idea is to have more athletes for the Youth Olympics from the region.”

The JJIF conducts eight to nine competitions every year, which include five Grand Prix’s, the Continental Championship for both youth and adults, and the worlds for youth and adults.

The JJIF signed a three-year contract to stage both the youth and senior world championships in Abu Dhabi.

“This is the first time we have combined both the youth and adult competitions together at the same venue and time period,” the Greek native added.

“It has gone well so far. Abu Dhabi has the capacity to handle it and it can get only bigger as this will be here the next two years as well.

“We had more than 1,500 participants and next year we expect it to increase to more than 2,400. This can be the trend in the future but we’ll have to see if other countries have the capacity like Abu Dhabi.”

Abu Dhabi has taken the lead in promoting and developing the sport worldwide. The Abu Dhabi World Tour consists of six Grand Slam events in Tokyo, Los Angeles, Rio de Janeiro, Abu Dhabi, Moscow and London.

The Abu Dhabi World Professional Jiu-Jitsu Championship draws the biggest participation now – 10,000 participant competing across two weeks. It also boasts the biggest prize money of Dh1million.

The UAE Jiu-Jitsu Federation runs a world ranking system and the champions crowned every year in April.

“Since we started to collaborate with Abu Dhabi four years ago, we have doubled the number of events and increased the number of participants 10 times," Theodoropoulos said.

“In general, Abu Dhabi not only brought in the finances but they have made a programme they have applied to develop and promote the sport worldwide. I think everybody will agree with me on that.

“They have the best programme for the sport to develop in the UAE from grassroots and their organisational acumen is top class, including infrastructure.

“Abu Dhabi gave a big push for the sport worldwide. We had a 10-year plan but we have achieved almost everything we planned in the four years we have been working together.”