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Judo in the city of God, with Rafaela Silva

11 Apr 2016 09:15

 by Mark Pickering - IJF    IJF Media Team / International Judo Federation
Rafaela Silva

Rafaela Silva is on her twenty-fourth spring, and yet she has already made her mark in the history of her country by becoming the first female Brazilian judo world champion in 2013. It was precisely in Rio where she went from being virtually unknown to a national glory. This transition was further reinforced by the fact that Rafaela was born and raised in ‘Cidade de Deus' (City of God), another Favela of Rio, made famous by the directors Fernando Meirelles and Kátia Lund who in 2002 described the violence prevailing in the district, based on the book of the same name by Paulo Linens.

Evolving into the category of U57kg, Rafaela is, as fine as she seems, frail. Reserved and rather shy in appearance, she nonetheless exudes a force that speaks volumes about her career. And there is no boasting from the champion when she says that she is aware of the impact she has made: "Sport has changed my life and if I reached the top of the world, I owe it to all those who helped me and believed in me."

She is a warrior in the noble sense of the term, a warrior who knows where she comes from and how she got there. A few words and a tearful eye explain enough. The tattoos emblazoned on her arms only underscore how Rafaela’s life was not always an easy one. But the smiles that illuminated her face on the last day of our stay in Rio, also showed that she was able to make choices and they were good. Today she has an iconic status for a youth in need of benchmarks, who would like to believe and dream that their future is not limited to the boundaries of a ghetto.

Watch the documentary Judo for the World by the IJF where you can see much more about judo in Rio and an interview with “the Master”, Flavio Canto.


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  • Rafaela Silva (BRA),  HONOUR (IJF) - World Championships Rio de Janeiro (2013, BRA) - © IJF Media Team, International Judo Federation
  • Rafaela Silva (BRA) - World Championships Rio de Janeiro (2013, BRA) - © IJF Media Team, International Judo Federation
  • Flávio Canto (BRA) - © IJF Media Team, International Judo Federation

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