Last weekend we witnessed Brazil’s most important CBJJ/IBJJF No-Gi tournament, the “Campeonato Brasileiro de Jiu-Jitsu Sem Kimono” (No-Gi Nationals – results here). The event was filled with incredible matches being regarded as an all-round success by fans and organizers.
Among all the excitement and euphoria, typical of an event of this magnitude, the act of one single competitor (Thiago Gaia) shone light onto a tricky subject, one that has been creeping up on sport’s main federation for many years. The subject of competitor pay.
For some years now the International Brazilian Jiu Jitsu Federation has been afflicted by the criticism of its “working force”, the competitors. The issue of fighter pay has been a long struggle in many contact sports and as Brazilian jiu jitsu pushes for a professionalism, more voices are becoming louder and demanding more benefits for those who stick their neck out for the sport.
After winning the lightweight division (black belt adult) of the Brazilian No-Gi National, while on the podium, Thiago Gaia took out a piece of paper with “#FightersDontEatMedals” written on it. The act of Gaia, a well respected MMA fighter and jiu jitsu black belt under Marcos Barbosa, could have slid by unnoticed if it wasn’t for the actions of an overly protective IBJJF official who tried to stop Gaia from showing his message by blocking the camera. Thiago proceeded to make an Instagram post, exposing the situation, a post that gathered momentum being shared on social media pages and forums such as Reddit.
Given the consequences Thiago Gaia’s actions may have for the future of our sport, we gave Gaia some more air-time and heard what more he had to say regarding the occurrence:
Could you explain why you felt the need to protest at the podium, particularly since you are also an MMA fighter?
I protested because I am cross with this situation, tired of seeing elite athletes fighting as professionals and living as amateurs.
In a scenery where we have organizers making large sums of money with jiu-jitsu, the least we could expect would be fair remuneration for the stars of the show. Unfortunately most of the competitions do not follow this. MMA is totally different, we have events that pay in accordance with the exposure of the event and the fighter. The figures are still far below what could be considered fair, but compared to jiu-jitsu the situation is much better, no wonder we see many jiu jitsu competitors migrating to MMA.
Do you believe you will be penalized by the IBJJF for your actions?
I don’t think this will happen. Their employee did try to censor me, but I do not believe the CBJJ (IBJJF) is an anti democratic organization. i hope it was just an unfortunate isolated event. Time will tell.
My criticism is to all the organizations that profit with jiu jitsu and do not share the gains with the athletes. I believe the IBJJF is a great organization that produces excellent tournaments, having grown better each year by their own merit and that of the fighters that entertain the crowd. But I think the correct thing would be for both parties to grow together, creating a better symbiosis between athlete and organization. The only way that will happen is if athletes earn fair remuneration, jiu jitsu would have everything to gain from it.
I wanted your input on the Pro events that the IBJJF has been promoting for the past few years, and on the lack black belts support on these considering they offer prize money?
That is a tricky question but a very good one. Who made it, the president of IBJJF? (laughs)
Firstly these events aren’t open to all black belts, while the limited number of weight categories causes a clear disadvantage to the lighter weights. The prize money varies between 4,000 real for the champion and one thousand for the runner-up. If you split 4000 by 12 months, you get 333 real per month. Do you know any athlete that can live on that?
If we get the top names in the jiu jitsu world, which there are not that many, maybe these competitions are not worth it for them as they don’t have the same exposure/prestige as the World Championship or the Pan Am. Also the value on offer they can make on a weekend teaching a seminar. However, it doesn’t make sense for the organizers to use “exposure” as a “getaway clause”, because that visibility is mutual. The organizers and athletes benefit from one another.
I think the right thing would just be offering prize money to the champs, but offer a base-salary to the top ranked world-wide. Maybe that way we wouldn’t have so many athletes moving away from Brazil.
Below a picture of the IBJJF representative attempting to block the camera from showing Gaia’s message.