Spanish football legend and Laureus Ambassador Raúl, currently a star of the New York Cosmos team, delighted youngsters today on a visit to a deprived area of the Bronx, when he tried his skills in the very different world of martial arts and jiujitsu.
Raúl, one of Real Madrid’s greatest players who scored a record 323 goals in his 16-year career there, as well as playing more than 100 times for Spain, was at the Laureus-supported Fight Back programme, where teenagers learn self-defence and build confidence and self-esteem through martial arts.
“It has been a great experience for me to come to this Laureus project in the Bronx and be with the boys and girl from Fight Back. I was amazing to see all they do and how successful they are with the martial arts with all those trophies they won, and more importantly I saw first-hand how they are taught great values. I was very impressed with the discipline that these kids have which you need for martial arts. It was a very emotional day for me. This really is the way to change lives and make a difference.”
Raúl, full name Raúl Gonzales Blanco, is one of Spain’s best ever footballers. After his Real Madrid career, he played for Schalke 04 in Germany and Al Saad in Qatar, before moving to New York Cosmos in the North American Soccer League. He became an Ambassador for the Laureus Sport for Good Foundation last November.
The day before his visit to Fight Back, which is based at the Mary Mitchell Family and Youth Centre in Corona, Bronx, Raúl had arranged for some of the young people from the project to be his special guests at the Cosmos match against Jacksonville Armada.
Fight Back helps women at risk of abuse. They are usually African-American or Hispanic, sometimes unemployed, and always poor. They need the confidence and skills that self defence classes teach. The jiujitsu plays an important part in building self-respect, which is vital if they are going to improve their lives.
The project also uses jiujitsu to keep kids out of gangs and offers them positive sporting alternatives. In a community like the Bronx, where toughness and macho behaviour is important for young people, the martial arts have a natural appeal. The aim is to make the youngsters realise that it is not necessary to fight in the street or pick up a knife or a gun to get respect.
One of the young adults who came to the project for help was Michael Quiles. Now he is an instructor and his life has been turned round. He said: “When I first came to Fight Back, I didn’t like anybody. The one thing I commend Fight Back for is never giving up on me, no matter how bad I was or unrespectful. Fight Back never gives up on people they see potential in. When I walked in here, it just gave me another family.”
Will Lawton, founder and sensei (teacher) of Fight Back, said: “Most of the kids that come to me, whether their parents bring them or not, it’s about the confidence and the self-esteem. Kids that are bullied don’t have that self-esteem. Just let me get to that nerve.”
The mission of the Laureus Foundation is to use sport as the means to combat some of the world’s toughest social challenges facing young people today such as juvenile crime, gangs, HIV/AIDS, discrimination, social exclusion and health problems like obesity. Since its inception, Laureus has raised more than €60 million to support projects which have helped to improve the lives of millions of young people. Currently Laureus supports more than 150 community sports-based projects around the world.