Lloyd Irvin: I am Rosa Parks on the IBJJF bus

Monday, November 26, 2012

 Lloyd Irvin, who runs the first non Brazilian team to take a world team title in the Mundials, took a firm stand earlier this month against what he termed corruption within the ranks of IBJJF referees.

Via Facebook.

Lloyd Irvin

Must Be Nice! It’s time for a change, there is a “good ole’ boy” network within the ranks of the ibjjf refs and this network needs to be broken up, the playing field needs to be even. I would like to see an American ‘head ref’ and at least one American side ref during finals and semi-final matches when an American is fighting in the match. I recommend HIllary Williams for the Job!

This is not an anti-ibjjf post, do not turn it into one, “I am PRO ibjjf”, “I support the ibjjf events 110%”, “there are many great ibjjf refs”, “I love what the ibjjf is doing with their events”, (but there is corruption within the ref ranks),

It’s been this way for so long they don’t even see anything wrong with what they are doing. When you have people that are dedicating their lives to BJJ they should not have to compete against their opponent AND their opponents friends who also happens to be the ref of their match. I have spoken to a member of the ibjjf about my concerns and they appear to be working hard at fixing things as fast as possible. I do not believe that the ibjjf supports this nor wants this for their events, it’s in the culture of these events, but something needs to be done. When you hear about these ghost calls, tricky ref situations, controversies, you’ve never heard of one single time where calls like these have gone to the favor of an American in a major event, not once!

This is no different from great police departments that have some bad cops doing bad things, no one wants to blow the whistle, the one that does gets black balled, then internal affairs comes in and hopefully removes this element from that police force. If this was a professional sport this would be considered a criminal act, like point shaving, there would be full out investigations etc.

If BJJ is going to go to the next level this “good ole’ boy” network has to be broken up. Everyone knows it exists, no one says anything. BJJ will never make it to the Olympics like this, but I guarantee that if BJJ ever became an Olympic sport the first order of business of the Olympic panel would be to break this network up. So in closing, I’m clear this will bring more hate (but the hate will come from those connected to this network I speak of,).

There are many refs tired of this, but they won’t speak up, I completely understand. So I’ll be Rosa Park and stand up and refuse to sit in the back of this bus. Something has to change! Does anyone know who appoints the refs that will be responsible for reffing the finals of the World Championships?

The head of the most successful team in the history of the Mundials, Alliance founder and head  Romero ‘Jacare came to the defense of the IBJJF, also via Facebook.

Romero Jacare Cavalcanti: This is what I think
I am not here to advocate for the IBJJF Federation but I do not think there is corruption or anything like that with the referees. They make mistakes and need to get better of course, but to accuse them of corruption is a little bit too much.

Just a few weeks back at the Atlanta Open we had a match for the final of the open division black belt between Lucas Lepri (Alliance) and DJ Jackson (LIrvin) so one American and one Brazilian the score was even on points and in my opinion Lucas pushed the pace and DJ waited to counter attack or whatever at the end the refs decided to give the win to DJ Jackson which I totally disagreed and I saw in many occasions the decisions going both ways.

About having Hillary as a head referee the Alliance Team is totally against that as a ref OK but head ref no way period. Just to remember the last world gi championship in Long Beach she was the ref in the final match of the brown belt open class between one of our athletes and she made several really, really bad calls changing the result of that match she admitted she made the mistakes cried and apologized to me in person so refs make mistakes yes, we didn’t go out and cried or accused anyone of corruption.

Just to finish instead of accusing and steering so much controversy about a mistake or an anti American thing from the Brazilians refs what about teaching the fighters to behave like gentleman’s and step on the podium to receive their medals and accept the fact that winning and loosing is part of any sport.This is my sincere opinion not love not hate. Best regards.

Lloyd then offered a point by point rebuttal.

As head of the #1 BJJ Team in the World I respect anything and everything you have to say but you’re 100% incorrect about there not being corruption within the Referees. Maybe it hasn’t affected you but it has affected me for well over a decade from events in Brazil over a decade ago all the way to events in the US now.

This is way bigger than any one match or event now,I’ve already talked to people inside of the ibjjf and they know that there is a problem, they are working on it they said, banning certain refs, etc. but to say that it isn’t happening is simply not true, but like I said I respect your opinion.

As far as DJ vs Lucas the main ref gave it to Lucas and he was absolutely disgusted when he had to raise DJ’s hand. The photo very clearly shows that. But I respect your opinion that you feel that Lucas won. Lucas is a beast, it was an honor for one of my young guys to even be on the mat with Lucas.

As far as Hillary is concerned I’m not sure about what match you’re talking about but clearly you said she made a mistake that cost you the match, she admitted it, cried you said and you and the Alliance Team are totally against her being a head ref. That is duly noted, I can understand 110% that your entire team not wanting a ref that has cost you a match as the head ref for anymore of your matches.

This is exactly my point, I don’t want that either. So lets not have Hillary be the head ref for any of your teams matches, and lets not have any of the refs that have made mistakes costing my guys matches the head refs for any of our matches. I will agree to that for sure! As a side note there is no way you could accuse Hillary of corruption, she is not a part of the inner circle, she is not in charge of assigning refs to work certain matches, she is not in charge of assigning the head ref and side refs, so you could never accuse her of corruption because she isn’t in a situation to be corrupt.

I am not causing controversy over a mistake, if all of these “mistakes were simply mistakes” we have a much bigger problem, the entire ‘I made a mistake’ excuse is tired, there are way to many so called mistakes, this isn’t Anti American, and for you to tell me to teach my fighters to behave like gentleman…

If you would do the exact same I would agree, this was the first time we’ve ever not gone to get our medal ever!

What about you teaching your fighters not to taunt former teammates, make threats, etc. I watched you and the entire Alliance Team taunt Jordan when he lost to Sinistro at the Pans, I saw you personally taunt Alec verbally when he lost “creontes never win!”, and the list goes on, when Keenan beat Sinistro you didn’t see anyone on our team taunt Sinistro, I teach my guy/gals better than that, I don’t do that, you should teach them to behave like gentleman and not taunt or threaten former students and accept the fact that students switching teams is part of any sport as you put it.

One of my former top students Mike Fowler, lived in my house for years, I took care of him,love him like a son, gave everything that I had to give to him, took him from white to black belt, one day he calls me and tells me that he’s switching to Atos! I don’t curse him, I don’t threaten him, I act like I always do as a gentleman and wished him the best.

You do not see me nor my team taunting him at tournaments when he loses, you do not see “anyone” on my team, not one single person bashing mike fowler on the forums, why?

Because i do teach my students to act like gentlemen. If my students taunted fowler, or taunted Sinstro for losing to Keenan in retaliation for what your team did to Jordan at the Pans, I would be pissed. That’s not what we are about. I’m about trying to build the strongest American BJJ team ever! I’m not going to get that done by taunting anyone. When I was a purple belt I asked you once what do you do when you lose a top student, you told me “F them, I created them and I’ll create more, Alliance is bigger than any one player.” I took that to heart, I followed that model and it worked for me.

So I’m big enough to say it right here that I apologize for not picking up the medal, it was not the way of a gentleman, can you do the same regarding your teams taunting?

This is also my sincere opinion not love not hate. And no matter what, you know that I have the highest regard & respect for you and your team. Best regards.

One of the most successful female competitors in grappling history Hillary Williams then offered a clarification, via the UG’s Atama BJJ Forum.

Interesting to see Hillary in the middle of all this, how was she brought into it? What was the first part?

That is a fantastic f—— question.

Mr positive
Is iot true that you broke down and cried for making a bad call on one of Jacares students?

Nah, he exaggerated. I definitely felt terrible for my mistake and respected Jacare enough to acknowledge my error and apologize for it. Guess what I won’t bother doing ever again?

so do you think there is institutionalized corruption Hilary or people are simply being human and making mistakes ?

it’s a very big call from Lloyd


I’ll start this off with a preface. Contrary to popular internet belief, I have not always been a proponent of IBJJF. I started learning Portuguese because I was convinced every time the opposite coach spoke to the ref/his student, he was in fact conspiring against me with the referee. I held the attitude of, “Oh, it’s a GB girl, I’d better finish or the ref is going to screw me over.” I accused refs of biased robbery to their faces, when come to find out that it was a cut and dry rule being followed (I still get made fun of by my now-coworker for this one). I cursed IBJJF’s name up and down the mats for Brazilian bias when I was chosen to be the first public upholding of the minimum time standards rule.

Turns out, people in Jiu Jitsu are just bored and create situations to entertain themselves. The reason people are paying attention to Lloyd Irvin’s rant is the same reason people pay attention to stories on the internet about the FDA banning cancer-curing agents so that they can keep making money; it may have no proof beyond speculation and anecdotal evidence but it sure is more interesting than saying scientists are working to identify and target the unique neoplastic characteristics of cancer and just haven’t figured it out yet. People love drama. That’s why two comments on a facebook photo is even on a message board right now, someone just thought Friday was too boring on its own.

I can say with complete confidence that Alvaro Mansur has not participated in any institutional corruption since my time with the organization. He has never even discussed a single athlete prior to the match with me, with the exception of Gabi and he merely asked if I was comfortable reffing her. He has never spoken poorly of a team or preferentially of anyone in a suggestive manner. If his character has always been as it is now, I would be willing to bet the farm that he’s never entered into referee corruption. He is incredibly concerned with athlete safety (to some, even to a fault), rule application homogeneity, and punctuality.

Now, some of your little heads are exploding right now because you’re probably thinking that I’m suggesting that no ref ever has made a preferential decision. No, that’s not it at all. Where there are humans, corruption follows. There have been and still might be some refs that make decisions based on nationality, affiliation (team, not sexual), and friendship. I realize now my earlier perceptions were so misinformed and skewed that I don’t know if bias actually was worse when I started or if I just told myself that in my ignorance. My coworkers have acknowledged that it definitely was worse in the past, but I don’t know if that time frame includes the last six years.

Regardless of the extent and timeline, favoritism behavior is a reflection on the individual integrity of the referee and not the fault of the organization. Now, heads exploding again–“If IBJJF employs them, the blame of corruption falls on them!” To some extent, yes, I agree with hypothetical forum member. However, nothing can be taken out of context. We must be aware of the issues of ref availability and the inability to play big brother.

I’ll start with the latter. Alvaro wanders the tournament watching referees, answering complaints and explaining rule misunderstanding. Each ref is not constantly observed for every single decision they make, and there is no realistic way that this can be accomplished. They added a second coordinator this year to help him keep an eye out and it definitely is helping. A referee that passed his test in Brazil (or just signed up here in the US, unfortunately we don’t have the test or 6 hour courses yet) could very well be performing his duties fairly to the majority of athletes. However, in the time that bossman has moved on to check another ref’s performance, a biased decision could be made. With exceptionally poor crowd knowledge of the rules, it’s quite difficult to distinguish a legitimate rules complaint from a misunderstanding and furthermore difficult to identify malicious intent from a true mistake. So, despite the fact that we are strictly instructed to not ref our own team, an individual’s bias could go undetected despite no negligence from the organization. IBJJF has made significant referee changes in recent years in response to warranted criticism, going from a very high proportion of Gracie Barra refs to a heterogenous group representing a multitude of teams. I still giggle when I hear the “Oh, if you’re GB you’re going to win” comments when we’ve got 2/24 refs that are GB and a head referee that is Soul Fighters. I giggle more realizing I’ve made the same damn comments.

Okay, now back to the former. Being a ref sucks in this sport, and I blame Brazilian soccer culture for allowing the “abuse the ref” mentality bleed through the sport and spread globally. Everyone yells at you. All day long. They yell about shit they 100% know isn’t legitimate just to try to make you question yourself and give them their students extra points. Coaches knowingly yell and beg for corrupted activity all day long. It’s just silly. One use of Google Scholar will show you that there are multitude of studies showing that excessive stress negatively influences cognition, but instead of shutting up and letting you focus they’ll berate you and then criticize an erroneous decision. You don’t want to be a ref. They’re not respected, they’re not thanked, they’re not even given the benefit of having integrity when they make mistakes. And as long as people don’t want to be refs, we won’t get more competition for ref spots. Competition allows us to select the good and eliminate the poor. Higher numbers allow for more 3-ref matches, which people constantly demand and then refuse to sign up to ref. Higher numbers mean more frequent breaks for refs allowing for a mental refresher. People always demand this and then never sign up. You wishing on a freaking star doesn’t make better refs appear, reading the rules and signing up to work does.

Lloyd Irvin sitting in the front of the IBJJF bus doesn’t help a damn thing. We need athletes, coaches, and referees to all respect one another. Hostility from both sides (mostly reactive to hate on the ref’s end of it, but nevertheless unnecessary and unhelpful) just creates a more stressful, separated environment that breeds rants like Lloyd’s and now mine. We need people to respect refs, showing brown and black belts that jumping into the job actually doesn’t make you public enemy number one. We need people to realize that the current state of rules allow for error and subjective interpretation that we may not agree on, and these are not nearly as corrupted or controversial as people would like to think. We need to realize that those who may intentionally show bias (I’d like to note that none of the refs in JT/Tanq match I throw into this sentence) are doing so due to individual lack of integrity and not something which was proposed or condoned by the organization. We need to work together to improve the sport, have teams encourage ref participation, get more women and non-Brazilians involved to throw off this image of Brazilian bias, and just learn to realize that sometimes things are just as boring as they appear.

Then Lloyd Irvin protege and co-founder South Florida’s Freestyle Fighting Academy Marcos Avellan offered a further defense of Lloyd Irvin.

Marcos Avellan


“I started learning Portuguese because I was convinced every time the opposite coach spoke to the ref/his student, he was in fact conspiring against me with the referee.”

Are you serious or joking?  I was always under the impression that you picked up Portuguese because of your fascination with Brazilian culture.  Did you really learn an entire language to understand what the Brazilians were saying on the mat while you were competing?

“Lloyd Irvin sitting in the front of the IBJJF bus doesn’t help a damn thing.”

I’ve been involved with sport grappling for a loooong time… I did my first BJJ match in 1999… and I can say that never before has the Brazilian bias been put on public blast the way it has been now – thanks to Lloyd Irvin.  It is all over facebook and all the jiujitsu forums… to say that this hasn’t done “a damn thing” is wild.  If at the next Worlds we see American refs, it will be because of Lloyd “Rosa Parks” Irvin sitting in the front of the IBJJF bus.

To your extreme credit, you went and became a certified IBJJF referee (and apparently learned an entire language just to fight corruption).  I do really tip my hat to you on becoming a ref.  However, look at how you were repaid by the Brazilian BJJ community… Jacare called you out, for no reason, and talked about you crying, etc., which was super inappropriate and belittling.  How come they don’t talk about the Brazilian incompetent referees publicly?  Has Jacare ever put a Brazilian black belt referee on blast the way he did you?  I have never seen you ref, but you CANNOT be worse than the bald black referee that was working all of DJ’s matches… that guy was the WORST referee I have ever seen in my entire grappling career.  That guy is probably a nice guy and an incredible martial artist, no doubt, but as a referee, he is totally worthless.  Or maybe he is an awesome referee when reffing matches that don’t involve an American and a Brazilian…

“Being a ref sucks in this sport, and I blame Brazilian soccer culture for allowing the “abuse the ref” mentality bleed through the sport and spread globally. Everyone yells at you. All day long. They yell about shit they 100% know isn’t legitimate just to try to make you question yourself and give them their students extra points. Coaches knowingly yell and beg for corrupted activity all day long.”

I strongly disagree that this is a “Brazilian” thing.  I have reffed over a thousand matches and people chewing up the referees transcends all cultures!  Being a referee is a thankless job… I have been thanked literally only once in my entire reffing career by an athlete.  So all of that being said – it is part of the job.  They shouldn’t ask flabbergasted because somebody is questioning a call.  Furthermore, it isn’t disrespect – unless they do so in a disrespectful manner.  Lloyd Irvin has NOT been disrespectful with his questioning of the referees.

The idea of a bias is NOT disrespect.  There is a reason that any real world championship goes out of their way to pick up judges and referees from countries all over the world… because bias is natural.  Having an ALL Brazilian referee team is crazy.  And then blaming the American coaches for not volunteering is even more stupid.  As a business, it is YOUR job to supply customer service… the customers are not supposed to jump over the counter and start serving themselves.  You can’t tell a customer to go into the kitchen and cook their own food because nobody is stepping up for the job – you got to do what needs to be done to find a cook.  Any business owner understands this.  These guys need to find non-Brazilian referees, it is that simple.

Alan ‘Gumby’ Marques one of the pioneers of BJJ in America weighed in with further thoughts.

1. There has been referee corruption in the past.

2. There has been organizational favoritism in the past in several forms, including the making of brackets creating favorable match ups for certain competitors and exceptions from certain rules that would have applied to everyone else.

*I can say this with confidence because I have had favors go my way in the past, although at the time I didn’t realize I was getting special treatment. I will also say that these and other incidents I’ve personally observed have been more than five years past. I am less observant and “on the inside” of the IBJJF than I have been in the past, but I do think things are getting better in this regard.

3. Rather than corruption, I usually blame the circumstances or plain bad refs for bad calls, rather than they are out to get me or my team. I’ve had friends and teammates give call against my school I thought were bad, complained, realized it’s part of the game here.

*There are some refs I groan when I see however, and some I’m pleased with. Has nothing to do with their nationality either.

4. Alvaro Mansur opens his referee clinics with the statement that Brazilian Jiu Jitsu is the only sport in the world where the competitors don’t know the rules. No fault to him, but paying for the clinic they hold before most tournaments won’t help you a whole lot in that regard.

*At least the seminar I attended. Every competitor certainly has the right to know the rules, but I would have hoped at a bare minimum every participant would have bothered to read the rules provided on the IBJJF website.

5. The MAJOR problem with the ruleset itself, or at least my understanding of it, is the grey area created because so many of the points, advantages, etc, are governed by INTENTION. This forces the referee to make an INTERPRETATION, which is therefore SUBJECTIVE.

*Again things seem to be getting better in this regard. I realize refereeing is a tough job (I refereed hundreds of matches myself in non IBJJF events). But it is a flawed system. And I’ve written articles on other aspects where the tournament system is flawed.

6. The IBJJF is a for profit entity. Not that there is necessarily anything wrong with that, but realize what class of organization that put it in.

7. There is no upward mobility or election process for the governing body of the IBJJF. Carlos Gracie Jr. will hold power as long as he sees fit, and as the owner of the IBJJF he will appoint officers as he sees fit.

*The two above facts alone will explain why Brazilian Jiu Jitsu will never be an Olympic Sport, or if it ever does become one, it will not be under the IBJJF. (There are MANY more reasons.)

8. If you want to affect change within the IBJJF, it will be done with your wallet, not your petitions or internet postings.

*And yet the IBJJF continues to grow every year, hold more events, and their marquee events continue to break record numbers. So they rightly believe they are doing something correct. No other organization has come close to achieving the level of dominance within Brazilian Jiu Jitsu that the IBJJF has.

So the refereeing and corruption is actually what scares me the least about the IBJJF. There are potentially much larger problems on the horizon.

What are your thoughts Underground? Is there institutional bias in the IBJJF, or is it a matter of a few bad apples?