/ 4 October 2007

Max Brito at end of tether after 12-year struggle

In 1995, Max Brito, a dashing, 24-year-old dreadlocked winger, arrived at the Rugby World Cup full of hope for himself and his Côte d’Ivoire team.

But after just three minutes of the group game against Tonga in Rustenburg in South Africa, he collapsed under a crunching tackle from flanker Inoke Afeaki and was crushed beneath an avalanche of bodies.

Two of his vertebrae were shattered and he was left a quadriplegic.

Twelve years on, with his wife having left him and barely on speaking terms with his two teenage sons, Brito has had enough.

”It is now 12 years since I have been in this state. I have come to the end of my tether,” Brito told Le Monde newspaper.

”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.”

Brito, now 36 and virtually confined to his bed at his home in Bordeaux, can only move his head and upper body as well as one arm, albeit rather awkwardly.

”This bloody handicap,” he said. ”It’s my curse. It kills me and I will never accept it. I can’t live with it and it’s going to be with me for the rest of my life.”

Brito has seen his wife leave him while he receives grudging visits from his two sons.

”They only ever want to take money off me so they can go out and buy things,” added Brito, who has claimed he received little financial support from the sport’s rulers in the aftermath of his accident.

”We became involved in money-raising events for Max,” said former England sevens captain Damien Hopley, who had to retire early because of injury and is head of the Professional Rugby Players’ Association.

”But there was very little support for him from Rugby World Cup,” added Hopley, speaking in 2003.

The tragedy that befell the Senegal-born, former electrician has mercifully not been repeated in subsequent World Cups even though there were fears of accidents before the amateurs of Portugal faced New Zealand in the current tournament.

However, according to English Rugby Football Union chief medical officer Dr Simon Kemp, Brito’s injuries are almost unique at the highest level.

”Statistics on one-sided matches are not available. But my view is that the physicality of a match will drive up the rate. The game, of course, has got harder and faster and with more powerful players you expect the collision to be more ferocious,” Dr Kemp told the Independent on Sunday prior to the 2003 World Cup.

”Intuitively you feel there is an increased risk of injury, but there’s a counter-side. Catastrophic injuries, like the one Max Brito suffered, are very rare at this level.

”The statistical average is that they shouldn’t occur more than once in every four World Cups.” — Sapa-AFP