Boxing school in Rio slum shows sport's power before Olympics

Fri Jun 17, 2016 1:39pm EDT
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By Daniel Flynn and Nacho Doce

RIO DE JANEIRO (Reuters) - Beneath a street lamp in one of Rio de Janeiro's slums, 19-year-old boxer Wanderson de Oliveira does pull-ups from a metal bar outside the Fight for Peace academy while two skinny young boys watch intently.

Much of the Complexo da Maré, a teeming neighborhood of 140,000 people near Rio's international airport, remains in the grip of drug gangs despite efforts to break their hold on the city's poor districts ahead of the August Olympic Games.

Gang members brandishing automatic weapons inspect vehicles that enter Maré at a checkpoint, watchful for raids by rival crews or the police. Youths with machine guns patrol the streets or loll in plastic chairs at corner bars.

For many young residents like Oliveira, the academy offers a glimpse of an alternative: a chance to build discipline and self-esteem through boxing and martial arts. Backed by partners including financial services company Credit Suisse and sportswear maker Reebok, it has more than 1,000 students between 7 and 29 years old.

"Boxing is my passion ...," said Oliveira, who is training for the national championships in November. "I am trying to raise myself up to get out of here."

Lifting weights and shadow boxing in the academy's blue-lit courtyard, Oliveira says his dream is to fight in the Olympics someday.

"It would mean everything to me to represent my country and, even more, to represent this community."

Fight for Peace, which opened in 2000, is not just about sport. Oliveira is enrolled in citizenship classes, and the charity helps young people excluded from formal education to return to studying.   Continued...

Teacher Alan (C) trains children on a boxing ring during an exercise session at a boxing school, in the Mare favela of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, June 2, 2016. REUTERS/Nacho Doce