March 9, 2013
Sean Fitzpatrick, the New Zealand rugby union legend, had Brazilian youngsters dancing and chanting with delight as he brought the haka to the vital Fight for Peace community project supported by the Laureus Sport for Good Foundation.
Rarely has the haka, an ancestral Maori greeting made famous by the All Blacks rugby team, been performed in more unusual surroundings than the courtyard of Luta Pela Paz, a boxing and martial arts gymnasium in Complexo da Mare situated far from the bright lights of Rio de Janeiro.
Fight for Peace was founded at Luta Pela Paz in Mare 13 years ago by British university boxing champion Luke Dowdney and, supported by Laureus, it has proved an overwhelming success in transforming the lives of youngsters living in a community blighted by crime, violence and drug abuse.
The gymnasium is a bright blue-walled beacon of hope in a favela, a shanty town, where Fitzpatrick learned of the good work Fight for Peace is doing in encouraging local boys and girls to channel their hopes and energies away from the threatening streets and into sport.
In the build-up to the Laureus World Sports Awards, Fitzpatrick, the former All Blacks captain and Laureus World Sports Academy Member, watched enthralled as members of Luta Pela Paz demonstrated their skills at boxing, judo and tae kwon do.
He said: “As we say in Laureus, sport has the power to change the world. From what we can see at this project, it is definitely changing the world of these boys and girls.
“It has been wonderful to experience at first hand what is going on here. What Luke and Fight for Peace are doing is tremendous and for Laureus to be involved in that, in helping to change lives, is what we’re all about. I’ve been inspired by what I’ve seen.”
Fitzpatrick willingly signed autographs for his horde of new fans and, along with André Lazaroni, State Secretary for Sport and Leisure - Rio de Janeiro, he sat in on a meeting of the gymnasium’s Youth Council.
Then came Fitzpatrick’s turn to demonstrate the haka, and in no time he had the boys and girls of Luta Pela Paz chanting, waving their arms, stamping their feet and, with his encouragement, sticking their tongues out like true Maoris.
Wearing the widest smile, Fitzpatrick gave his willing pupils 10 out of 10 for effort. “They were very good,” he said. “The haka is all about intensity, and it is about being together. You could see that the youngsters here have a great degree of unity, which is just fantastic.”