15 Years of Laureus: The boxer who didn’t fight back
To celebrate 15 Years of Laureus, we will be looking back at some of the most inspiring sport for development stories to have featured on Laureus.com over the years. For the first part of the series, we go back to early 2013 and the inspiring story of the boxer who didn’t let tragedy get in the way of his dreams.
April 30, 2014
As a young boy in Rio de Janeiro, Roberto's passions were for playing football and flying kites with friends. His family worked hard to keep things this way, and making certain he was safe from the criminality and violence that blighted the favela where they lived.
Then, when Roberto was just 13, his father was murdered.
Amid thoughts of revenge, he faced not only the end of his father’s life, but the possibility of throwing his own away as well.
He says: "Losing my father, the way he was taken out of the world, was so cruel. Never did I think I could lose him this way. But life is nothing but surprises: things we can barely imagine, end up happening in the places we live."
Around the same time, a boxing project named Fight for Peace was being set up in Maré, the favela where he lived.
The project would prove instrumental in helping support the young Brazilian through this difficult time.
Roberto says: “It was crucial in changing my way of thinking. I was only thinking about vengeance, but the project was there to stop me. I came to realise that by taking revenge it would make it even worse. I would have had revenge, but life for my family, and any family I might have in the future, would be even worse. That’s why I threw myself into sport.”
The Laureus-supported Fight for Peace sports charity uses boxing & martial arts to help vulnerable young people find new direction and purpose in life.
A sister initiative in east London offers the same opportunities to local children and young adults.
This was 13 years ago now. Since then, Roberto has emerged as one of his country’s most promising boxers. He is currently fighting for a place in the Brazilian National boxing team for the Rio 2016 Olympic Games.
Now 25, Roberto has traveled around the world with the Brazilian national team. And, though based with them in Sao Paulo, it is of testament to his character and love for his community that he remains a coach to those in Maré looking for someone to rely on, as he once needed himself.
He says: “I love coaching. For me, it is passing on what you have learnt and that is a great joy, especially passing on to the young people in Maré here.”
And he sees first-hand that despite the problems Rio still faces, the work of Fight for Peace (FFP) is making a remarkable difference to lives here in Maré.
“I have seen so many young people in this community totally lost, without any idea of what to do. Now FFP is an option for them, people are getting better access to jobs where once only trafficking was an option for them.
“In Maré now, I see a big difference since FFP arrived, young people’s perspectives are being changed through sport.”
As Roberto says these words, a young voice interrupts him and another reason as to why he feels so passionately about the young people of his community becomes clear.
It is his daughter. She is named Rillary (pronounced Hillary) and he reveals she will be celebrating her fourth birthday in just a few days.
“She is like me when I was a kid, always running around. I see myself in her and that’s cool.”
With a little girl of his own, the product of a marriage now in its eighth year, it is hard not to reflect back to the decision Roberto made 13 years ago: the decision to fight for peace, not revenge.
“I’m so glad I took that decision …
“Now I can say ‘I won’. I can say ‘I’m the winner’.”