Part 4: Being ‘Gringoed’
When seeking advice from anyone that has competed in Brazil, the chances are, you will be informed about the likelihood of being ‘gringoed’. For the uninitiated the gist of this concept is, referees unfairly discriminating against non-Brazilian competitors.
Unequal treatment could manifest itself in a litany of ways such as failing to award points or vice versa awarding imaginary points to an opponent; arbitrary distribution of advantages, restarting from a less advantageous position, or cynical disqualifications.
Is this charge of favouritism real or simply a nasty conspiracy propagated by those who have just suffered an ego-damaging defeat? I have written about my own experience with this phenomenon previously, here and here, admittedly, I was bitter about being defeated in both cases.
The short answer is yes it does go on. But, this is not to say that all Brazilian referees are prejudiced and will cut any corner to ensure that the Brazilian competitor always emerges victorious. This simply isn’t the case, I have won a number of matches on the referee’s decision, where, I would have been hard-pressed to decide the victor myself.
What I did come to discover was that refereeing was a lot fairer in the IBJJF / CBJJ competitions, it was in the smaller scale and regional tournaments that I felt I was having to battle not only with my opponent but also the referee.
It is hardly an unfounded assessment to note that Brazilians are highly nationalistic, one has to only pay attention to the reaction for non-Brazilian fighters when the UFC goes to Brazil. This fierce pride combined with the highly subjective nature of the points system in BJJ makes it very easy to justify an extra advantage or two to ensure that the ‘right’ person wins.
Add this to the fact that referees can represent the same team as those they are in charge of, they would have to be at the height of objectivity to call things completely down the middle. This also means it isn’t just gringos that face discrimination, but anyone that has the misfortune of representing a rival team.
There is always the temptation to drop the old adage of not leaving it in the hands of the judges or the referee in our case. But the sport of jiu-jitsu is far too nuanced for this overly simplistic, clichéd bullshit, if two athletes are of equal level (which you would hope otherwise where would the fun be in competing?) there is a good chance it will be exceptionally close and come down to the discretion of the official. Is it too much to ask that they be a completely neutral party?
Unfair treatment does go on, but it is certainly not an inevitability, and does little to outweigh the awe-inspiring feeling of competing on the mats in the birthplace of jiu-jitsu.
If I could offer a piece of advice based on my own experience, don’t use being ‘gringoed’ as a crutch for being beaten by a better competitor, it just makes you sound like a dick.