The Glory of '95: World Rugby could do more to remember Max Brito
On the list of 10 memories of the 1995 Rugby World Cup, Brito’s life-changing injury doesn’t make the top five.
Nelson Mandela in a Springbok jersey; “42-million South Africans supporting us”, the chants of “Nelson, Nelson Nelson”, Jonah Lomu, the “Battle of Boet Erasmus”, “one team, one country.” We all remember those.
That’s not really anyone’s fault. People remember what they remember.
For South Africans, the 1995 World Cup was supposed to be a seminal moment. It was supposed to be a sign of the early stages of racial harmony in post-apartheid South Africa.
However, that symbolism was crushed.
Just three years after sitting next to each other at Ellis Park, where they watched Francois Pienaar’s team win the Webb Ellis Cup, Louis Luyt the president of SA Rugby was facing Mandela across a courtroom. So much for “one team one country”, then.
Taken in that kind of context, the fact that Brito became an afterthought of that tournament is symbolic in its own way.
Like Luyt kicked to touch the opportunity to forge unity in South Africa and grow rugby to a wider base, so World Rugby seemed to forget Brito - and to a large degree still does.
Did you see Brito at the 2019 World Cup? In both of the spectacular opening and closing ceremonies in Japan last year was there any reference to Brito?
Maybe it’s asking too much that arguably the most tragic event to happen on a rugby field at a World Cup should be recognised when people are seeking to celebrate the joy of the game, but World Rugby could do more to remember Brito.
Brito’s initial medical treatment and rehabilitation in South Africa, and his repatriation to France where he lived, worked - as an electrician and played - for third division team Biscarrosse Olympique - were paid for by contributions from the nations competing at the World Cup.
To recap; in the third minute of Ivory Coast’s final Pool D match against Tonga at the 95 World Cup, Brito, took possession of a poor clearance kick and started a counter attack.
He was tackled by Tongan loose-forward Inoke Afeaki and got trapped at the bottom of the resulting ruck. He was taken to a hospital in Pretoria and underwent surgery. He suffered a dislocation of the fourth and fifth cervical vertebrae. He never walked again.
Brito’s wife left him, taking his two sons with her.
He wanted to commit suicide, lived with his parents and but for a few fund-raising campaigns, organised independently of any rugby authorities, the sport largely left him behind. Forgotten.
Thankfully Brito experienced a change of heart and mind some 15 years after misfortune struck him. “I have managed to vanquish my handicap.
“When you accept what has happened, you can move on. When you refuse to accept it, you can never find a way through. My aim today is to relaunch rugby (in Ivory Coast) by training young players,” Brito said in an interview with The Times in the UK in 2015.
Brito’s name is now attached to the Ivory Coast Rugby Academy - which is seeking to train some 2 500 youngsters.
The academy’s main goal is to get the Ivory Coast to qualify for the 2023 World Cup in France and get the country’s male and female teams to qualify for the 2024 Olympics, which will take place in Paris.
Rugby Ivory Coast launched a crowd funding campaign to raise money for the academy, hoping for $50 000 (about R972 000). Unfortunately the fund was set up just as the Covid-19 pandemic struck. About $6 600 (just over R128 000) has been raised.
Nevertheless for Brito it’s provided a goal in life - so tragically transformed on that early June afternoon 25 years ago.
At a gala organised in his honour by Alice Koudougnon, a former Ivorian international handball player, in Bordeaux last November, Brito said he no longer lives for yesterday.
Perhaps like the way he has dealt with the lot rugby dealt him, so rugby’s authorities can change and do more to remember Brito.