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A community project in Brazil creating Olympic athletes and changing lives through sport

A community project in Brazil creating Olympic athletes and changing lives through sport

Sao Paulo, Brazil, 2004.

Mauricio Draghi and Fabricio “Bi” Kobashi there are two athletes at the top rugby in Brazil, a country still far from having an internationally recognized team.

In addition to competing for the national team, both players are also part of it Pasteur Athletique, a traditional São Paulo rugby uniform of French origin.

Training with the club takes them to Morumbi, a neighborhood in the capital of São Paulo close to some of the city’s poorest neighborhoods, including Paraisopolis.

The name Paraisópolis can be translated as “the city of paradise”, but they discover that it is nothing else.

Slums are like a city in São Paulo. With a population of over 100,000, the 100-year-old favela is the fifth largest in Brazil, stretching just over a square kilometer.

In places like Paraisópolis, bargains are rare. The people living there have no access to healthcare, education, sport and recreation, leaving thousands of young people within its walls vulnerable and vulnerable.

Teenagers during a rugby session in the Paraisópolis district of São Paulo, Brazil.
Teenagers during a rugby session in the Paraisópolis district of São Paulo, Brazil. (Rugby for Todos/Divulgação)

When Draghi and Bi Kobashi start dating some of the children from Paraisópolis, they learn more about the social inequalities they face, as well as the general lack of access to sports they experience.

It’s combined with rugby “access gap” between the Brazilians and those in the favelas made both players uncomfortable. They felt that the Brazilian team did not represent all the people of Brazil; rugby was not within everyone’s reach.

Restless and dissatisfied, they decided to act: “There can be no equality,” Draghi realized. “This is unacceptable”.

Speaking exclusively to Olympics.com, Draghi, one of the founders “Rugby for the Todos” (Rugby for All) recalls the moment he and Bi Kobashi embarked on a journey that would change the lives of thousands of young people, and reflects on all they have achieved since then.

Maurício Draghi and Fabrício Kobashi, founders of
Maurício Draghi and Fabrício Kobashi, founders of “Rugby para Todos” (Rugby for Todos/Divulgação)

First training session: over 100 children

In May 2004, after some discussion, Draghi and Kobashi decided to go to a soccer field in Paraisópolis to talk to a community leader about using the field to teach rugby to local children.

When they arrived, they found an improvised organization and even an ox tied to a fence.

They went to the bar at the edge of the field. There was some initial suspicion until they discovered that the person in charge of the football field, Chiquinho, was an inspector of the school where Draghi studied. Then tensions subsided.

After agreeing on ideas and formalities, the following Sunday they agreed a Brazilian U19 team could host an exhibition match in Paraisopolis.

Draghi and Kobashi prepared 40 tickets, which they then distributed to children and parents who came to view. The tickets included invitation to the first rugby training they planned to organize next Wednesday.

It was the “beginning”.

Teenagers during a session at
Teenagers during a session at “Rugby para Todos” in Paraisópolis, São Paulo, Brazil (Rugby for Todos/Divulgação)

On that second Wednesday in May 2004, when the duo arrived to conduct their first training session, they were amazed at what they saw.

They were over 100 children on the Paraisópolis football field. The answer was overwhelming.

After initial success, rugby players continued to hold regular training sessions, but more pressing demands began to emerge. The children came with headaches because they hadn’t even eaten a meal that day. Others needed psychological help.

A few days later, the couple arranged pre-workout snacks and a psychologist joined the team organizing the sessions.

Starting in the
Starting in the “Rugby para Todos” project, Bianca Silva plays for Brazil against Fiji during the 2017 HSBC Sydney Sevens (Getty Images 2017)

Much more than spreading rugby

As more and more serious problems arose, Draghi and Kobashi were forced to change the focus of the project.

“Originally, it was supposed to be a rugby lesson. However, we realized that sports initiation is needed beforehand. Base, with interdisciplinary care, such as the presence – in addition to a psychologist – a dietitian and a physiotherapist, recalled Draghi.

Taking care of all these needs, they also began to do so develop a trainee project help some young people to enter the labor market. It was another change from their original idea.

Within six months of starting, there were already children who were having a great time. This led Draghi and Kobashi to realize the need to build a larger organizational structure that included even more resources.

For the first three years, everything was voluntary and experimental: “It was all about trying and failing, trying and succeeding,” recalls Draghi. “Only in the fourth year of operation did we manage to collect the first budget.”

Establishment of the “Instituto Rugby para Todos” and its role outside sport

Due to the ever-expanding scope, Draghi and Kobashi realized the need to create something more meaningful.

And in 2009 “Instituto Rugby for Todos” (Rugby for All Institute) was formed.

The project quickly gained recognition for its depth of work, and the favela approach became a benchmark for others to use sport as a tool for social inclusion.

“I didn’t believe in education as much as I do today,” Kobashi confessed in the documentary “The Lions of Paraisópolis – Rugby originating from the favelas”.

“Rather than being an end, rugby has become a means… part of the process of preparing for life. The institute has started to manage participants’ careers and routines, whether in or outside of sports,” Draghi added.

As the Institute grew over the years, participants began to have a variety of options, including pursuing higher education, finding a job and even continuing to play rugby.

Two teams have been created for those who want to practice this sport: Lions (lionesses) and Leões (Lions) of Paraisópolis.

Tenório, Adrio, Brendon, Igor and Varejão, players of the Brazilian national team Rugby XV, hailing from
Tenório, Adrio, Brendon, Igor and Varejão, players of the Brazil national team in Rugby XV, originating from the “Rugby para Todos” project. (Rugby for Todos/Divulgação)

According to the Institution, after more than 15 years work, 5000 children have already received help 2000 they receive constant care.

Draghi, now a public policy agent, says a good idea is no longer enough for him.

“Good communication and transparency are needed,” he stressed.

Leila Silva in action during a training session of the Brazilian women's Rugby Sevens team at the NAR Sports Campus, April 23, 2021, Sao Paulo, Brazil.  The
Leila Silva in action during a training session of the Brazilian women’s Rugby Sevens team at the NAR Sports Campus, April 23, 2021, Sao Paulo, Brazil. The “Yaras”, as they are known, qualified for Tokyo 2020 after winning the 2019 South American Championship. This will be their second appearance at the Olympics. (Buda Mendes)

Olympians Leila and Bianca Silva take part in ‘Rugby for All’

In the most unfavorable conditions, where anyone can give up playing a sport, especially one that is far from fully professional, Paraisópolis has given Brazilian rugby countless talents.

Several of the young people who started the project went into competitive sports. Some have even reached the Brazil national team in both sevens and 15s rugby, including Leila and Bianca Silvawho competed in the Olympic Games.

Leila Silva was part of the Yaras (as the players of the Brazilian women’s rugby team are known) in Tokyo 2020.

In a recent interview with Olympics.com in Portuguese, Leila said that the rugby project has taught her to express herself and make decisions on and off the pitch.

She recalled that in order to have fun, she had to do well in school, which she enjoyed learning: “Sports shaped me as a person.”

Name Bianca Silva Rugby Player of the Year 2018 by the Brazilian Olympic Committee.

She fondly recalled her beginnings in rugby in Paraisópolis on Brazil’s Mesa Oval podcast, saying: “You have to understand that nothing comes easy. Have as a reference people who give you strength.

“The project has made me believe in myself more, made rugby my life, met amazing people to live with and has given me a great experience.”

Maurício Draghi: “Society cannot tolerate inequality”

Considering that social inequalities and a lack of sports culture were the reasons for the creation of “Rugby para Todos”, it is safe to say that the project has been very successful.

“All of this has been achieved correctly, honestly and fairly, which makes me happy,” said Draghi. “But not only the results of the Institute itself, but above all the children and youth participating in it.”

There are results on the pitch, in clubs or in the Brazilian national team – Bianca and Leila Silva among the Yaras; Robert Tenório, Adria, Brandon, Igor Lucjan and Varejao among the Tupis – but also successes, such as help in the career path and learning.

Accustomed to challenges, Draghi knows the journey ahead of “Rugby para Todos” is clear: she must remain committed to helping vulnerable young people in extreme circumstances.

And he is not afraid of the difficulties that may arise in the future: “Society cannot tolerate inequality. We remain focused on the goal of the project.

“Rugby is an opportunity to express yourself. Rugby is a sport for everyone and there are opportunities for everyone.” – Mauricio Draghi

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