Max Brito is a man very few people remember. He was left paralysed on the field during the 1995 Rugby World Cup. The sport itself has forgotten him and has offered little to no assistance to a man in desperate need of it. By ANTOINETTE MULLER.
Most people will remember the 1995 Rugby World Cup for the euphoria that came with the Springboks winning it. There was plenty to feel good about, but not for everyone. For Max Brito, the tournament would change his life forever.
Three minutes into Ivory Coast’s game against Tonga, the then 24-year old’s life would change forever. A crushing tackle saw Brito crushed under the ruck. Two of his vertebrae were shattered ad he was left paralysed for life. Since then, Brito has been living in the shadows, largely ignored by World Rugby. Back then, sport wasn’t nearly as professional as it is these days. While his initial medical costs were covered, that support has since dwindled.
Some say the 1995 World Cup marked the symbolic start of the professional era, but back then players weren’t earning nearly as much as they are these days, which is precisely why his plight is so tragic. You would think that with the start of the professional era and as money started to trickle in, the powers that be might have offered the man who suffered so much because of their game some support. But that has not been the case. By 2003, the financial support had all but dried up for Brito and life had been pretty rough.
So rough, that he contemplated suicide. His wife and kids have all but abandoned him and he is currently living with his parents in France, confined mostly to bed and almost entirely forgotten by the world of rugby.
“It is now 12 years since I have been in this state. I have come to the end of my tether,” Brito said in an interview with Le Monde newspaper in 2007.
“If one day I fall seriously ill, and if I have the strength and courage to take my own life, then I will do it.”
In the years gone by, England and Ivory Coast have arranged charity matches to assist Brito, but the Rugby World Cup has done nothing.
For a man whose life was ruined on the biggest stage the game can have, there has not even been an acknowledgement of his existent and it is a disgrace. The 2015 Rugby World Cup will soon be touted as “the best ever” and will turn a tidy profit, but while the sport continues to coin it and ignore a man desperately in need of assistance it is shaming itself and insulting its fans. Luckily, ordinary people have started to notice and take action.
Where World Rugby has failed, die-hard rugby supporters have stepped in. Inspired by a business he is starting – which aims to connect South Africans from all over the world – Christopher Ackermann set up a GoFundMe page to help raise awareness of Brito’s current situation and, more importantly, raise funds. Ackerman has never met Brito, but hopes that when he makes the offer of financial assistance, it will offer him some relief.
“I just couldn’t believe that for a big organisation like the Rugby World Cup, looking after someone that completely lost the rest of their ‘normal’ life so to speak, there is no support whatsoever available. It is absolutely disgraceful,” Ackerman told the Daily Maverick.
“We are not talking about 10,000 men, we are talking about a handful of guys in this position. Surely, there must be something for them to fall back on? Yes, they play rugby of their own choice. Most workplaces have accident cover in place. How can the Rugby World Cup not cater for such things?” Ackerman adds.
It’s a nail-on-head point, but it also underscores perhaps some of the reasons why Brito has been ignored for so long. Serious injures like Brito’s – although rare – are bad for business. If parents and young players knew of the serious risks involved in playing the sport, including the potential severity of concussion, would they continue to participate en masse? Would ordinary men who play in an amateur capacity risk their wellbeing while rugby continues to bang its drum of being one of the fastest growing sports in the world? The answer is probably no – especially not if they find out how Brito has been treated.
Worse still, it is almost certain that if this had happened to one of the ‘stars’ from one of the ‘star’ nations, the story would not have been hushed up and Brito would not have been cast away and forgotten. For a sport that tries to build an image of having everyone’s back, it’s pretty embarrassing and for a tournament that thrives on feel-good stories; it’s a damn disgrace. DM
Photo: Max Brito (Source: Abidjan.net)