Britain’s Luke Dowdney is the winner of the 2007 Laureus Sport for Good Award in recognition of his work in creating the revolutionary Luta Pela Paz (Fight for Peace) project in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.
Fight for Peace is based in Complexo da Maré, a favela where there has been a decade of territorial drug wars between two of Rio’s largest trafficking factions. Here openly armed children and adolescents patrol the streets and alleyways to ‘defend’ the community from rival factions or police raids. According to statistics from the Brazilian Ministry of Health, the firearms related mortality rate of 15-17 year olds in the Complexo da Maré is over 150 per 100,000 inhabitants, a statistic rarely seen outside war zones.
Through its focus on boxing, Fight for Peace has maintained regular contact with young people from the favela most affected by violence and drug trafficking, offering free access to sports and education courses. The project helps to create real alternatives to crime, armed violence and the drug trade for children and adolescents in Maré.
Fight for Peace, which is supported by the Laureus Sport for Good Foundation, is a sanctuary in the midst of an area where drug trafficking and organized armed violence dominate. Dowdney says: “Boxing is showing these kids another path, added to which our educational programmes and social support seek to provide a real hub for the community and a chance for young people to develop in ways that would otherwise be impossible for them.”
Dowdney first came to Brazil when studying for a master’s degree in social anthropology at Edinburgh University, to write his dissertation on violence and Brazilian street children, and he decided to stay to help. A respected boxer at Edinburgh University, winning the 1995 light-middleweight British Universities championship, he fought as an amateur boxer in Scotland, England, Nepal and Japan and is now certified as a trainer by the Rio de Janeiro State Boxing Federation.