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  1. dsc01160

    I cannot believe it is over.

    It doesn’t seem like it but after 30 shows (I think) of Planet Sport Destination Rio we have come to the end of this magical World Cup.

    Myself and Tommy have had the pleasure of producing the Taste of Rio features which hopefully saw us go a little bit more in depth than your average tourist here in the ‘marvellous city’.

    The whole experience has been a highlight but since we did a top five halfway through the schedule it seems fitting I should do my top ten moments here in Rio.

    If you have read the blogs and listened to the shows you will have noticed we have covered a lot of ground, from visiting Sugar Loaf Mountain to Bangu Prison.

    It is difficult to pick a top ten, but I have given it a go. All of these could be number one in their own right and there is plenty of stuff which deserved to feature but just has not made the cut.

    1. The Maracana – As a massive football fan watching a game at the Maracana with a load of passionate Colombians will go down as one of my favourite footballing memories.
    2. Forest Trek – Hiking through the Tijuca forest was no doubt a highlight. We climbed to the highest point in Rio where the views were simply stunning.
    3. Beach life – From bodyboarding to beach football to just soaking up the atmosphere. Rio’s beaches were a joy to behold and a place of real fun.
    4. The fans – To meet fans from other countries from around the world was fantastic. Joining in with their songs, speaking to them about their thoughts about their team and learning more about their respective countries was certainly a truly memorable time.
    5. Futsal and football projects – From visiting Bangu prison and the football project there to the futsal project near one of Rio’s favelas, it was a privilege to meet some fantastic volunteers and great young people. For many life is extremely tough but hopefully with some great people working with these kids they can turn their lives around.
    6. Sugar Loaf – Comes higher than Christ Redeemer only because I got more time up there to appreciate the views of one of Rio’s many wonders. Fun to see some monkeys and on a hot day it was good to enjoy the cool shade of the mango tree.
    7. Christ Redeemer – One of the most impressive pieces of architecture I may well ever see. An iconic place for this iconic city.
    8. The Girl from Ipanema – May have led you astray on this one as I am not talking about THE girl from Ipanema but in fact the restaurant named after her. The food there was something else, I had a Picanha, which is basically steak served on a sizzling hot griddle. I want to go there again.
    9. Alzirao – In my opinion the best fan site for watching a Brazil game. Amazing atmosphere, the Brazilians certainly know how to throw a party and the one game I saw there made me wish Brazil had made it to the final round, just to see the carnival that would have taken place there.
    10. Acai – I admit it, I am an Acai addict. I am not sure how I am going to cope without it. . . 

    Love Rio van

  2. futsal

    One thing that has become evident during my time in Rio de Janeiro so far is football is everything over here.

    On Thursday night I was at a futsal project near Morros dos Macacos (one of Rio’s low income communities) run by one of the Methodist churches in the area Metodista da Vila Isabel.

    I asked one of the coaches how popular this project is in the community. His answer was not in the least bit surprising.

    “Football here is like a religion, the kids’ live for football they love playing the game.”

    As the kids arrived you could tell they were itching to get onto the futsal court and start playing.

    The project runs twice a week on a Tuesday and Thursday and the kids get a dinner afterwards before they make their way back home. For some of the kids, one of the youth workers says, these are probably the best dinners they will get all week.

    futsal2The ages ranged from around eight to 13-years-old and I will be blunt, the football talent was pretty incredible.

    Futsal relies on quick passing, creative thinking, dribbling and technique.

    As I watched, one small lad drifted past one player, crossed the ball back to his team mate who volleyed it in from outside the area into the top right hand corner. Easy.

    I looked over to the coach who seemed reluctant to give too much praise for this goal but he caught my eye and smiled. He knew it was a sublime hit.

    It didn’t surprise me to hear scouts from some of Rio’s local clubs are often at the project looking out for any potential young stars.

    Football is an escape for these young lads, for a couple of hours they can forget about the harsh reality of their neighbourhood and concentrate on the beautiful game.

    To give you an example of the life they face, one of the kids who goes to the project was shot in the head two months ago. Caught in the middle of gun fight. Miraculously he did not die, but will face life changing injuries.

    Another kid no longer has a mother as she has been sent to prison for murder.

    It put things in perspective, as have many of the projects I have visited out here.

    futsal3Once the football had finished we settled down for some food. It also provided some time for the kids to chat to us (with the help of a translator) and ask us questions. There were plenty. All of them about football.

    Do we play futsal in England? What is the English style like? Are you trying to play more like us? What team do you support? And so on.

    Once dinner was over we had a special presentation. We had brought some Crystal Palace football shirts and shorts over with us to give to the kids.

    As a massive Palace fan I was hoping I was giving a shirt to the next Ronaldinho or Neymar or Ronaldo.

    But as a massive football fan, it was great to see their reactions. They all said thank you, shook our hands and gave us a hug before putting on the shirts or shorts and then running off home. All of them with big grins on their faces.

    If there are times when I am ever disillusioned with football whether it is players acting like complete idiots or the ridiculous amount of the money in the game, I will look back to projects like this one, which for me captured the true essence of football.

    Hopefully I will get the chance to visit again. 

  3. As we approached Bangu Prison on the outskirts of Rio de Janeiro I could see this was a big place.

    “How many people are here?” I asked.

    “Around 80,000 prisoners,” was the reply. Bangu was not just a ‘big place’ this was basically a prison city.

    Myself and Tommy were being taken to the prison by Luke Simone, a volunteer who works with young offenders at Bangu and lives in Rio de Janeiro.

    Luke and around seven other volunteers visit the unit (one of many at the prison) every Monday for two hours.

    The young people are aged between 16 and 21-years-old and have committed serious offences including murder.

    Luke, originally from the UK, tells us due to sentencing guidelines in Rio, juveniles tend to stay in prison for up to six months before they are moved to a lower security prison where they continue rehabilitation before being freed.

    Organised by the Baptist church in Rio the volunteers run football sessions for the young people and other recreational activities.

    There is also time in the sessions for prayer, worship and just talking to the lads.

    This was my first visit to a prison, with my only other experience of prison life being watching the film Shawshank Redemption and the TV series Prison Break. In other words I had no idea what to expect.

    Once we had gone through the various security checks we were taken to what was basically a classroom as we waited for the guys to arrive from their ‘lodgings’. Due to it being a young person’s unit usual prison terms such as cells tend to be avoided. Although guards call the boys by their prison numbers rather than names, which I thought rather defeated the point.

    Anyway as we waited I wondered what these lads would be like. Troublesome? Moody? Angry? Sad? Basically any negative word I could think of. All of them, I was told, were from the same gang in Rio, this is to avoid fights breaking out between rival gangs in the unit.

    A guard opens the door and in they come one by one in white t-shirts, dark blue shorts and flip flops.

    Any negative thoughts I had quickly disappeared as the energy of these kids (these were not battle hardened adults by any stretch) literally shocked me.

    In they came around 15 of them, shaking each one of us by the hand, giving us a hug and asking how we were. There was some small talk, mainly about football, before the session started.

    One of the volunteers introduced me and Tom to the group and asked if any of them had any questions for us. Naturally they had plenty, ranging from the work we do to who we are now supporting at the World Cup now England has crashed out.

    The group then headed to the indoor football pitch which had seen better days.

    We split up into three teams and began playing a mini tournament. Our first proper football match in Brazil and it was in a prison. Not Copacabana or Ipanema beach or a five-a-side football pitch somewhere in Rio but in Bangu prison.

    The atmosphere though was fantastic. Ulisses, one of the volunteers, kept things in order. Any swearing meant ten press ups, deliberate fouls meant five press ups and so on.

    As the teams alternated I chatted to some of the boys on sidelines who were keen to ask more questions on life in England and how often we play football back at home.

    In terms of on the pitch, I again was nicknamed Rooney (something going on there) and despite costing my team a goal I made up for it by scoring one to put us through to the final which we unfortunately lost 1-0.

    Post-football the boys did some worship and prayer before listening to a quick talk by one of the volunteers which marked the end of the session.

    Again they all came and shook our hand, gave us a hug, congratulated us on our game before heading back to their lodgings.

    I know there will be many of you who will read this and have a tonne of questions. Should prison be so jolly? Is six months a joke of a sentence? Surely 20 years is more appropriate? Perhaps even the death penalty? Can young offenders be rehabilitated in that time? Does rehabilitation even work?

    I certainly had some similar questions but having only got a glimpse of prison life I am not an authority on the matter.  

    What I will say is it is easy to forget that this is a different culture to England, there are different needs here (as well as a lot of similar ones for example a need to be loved). Gang life here is on a different level, as is the level of poverty and obviously Brazil’s justice system is different as well.

    The best thing I can recommend is reading what Luke, one of the volunteers, said to us below about what he has seen working with these young people.  You can also listen to what he had to say on our Taste of Rio feature on the podcast.   

    "Each community in Rio are owned by separate gang factions. The community I am in is run by the Red Command and those are the people who dictate the trade of drugs and arms in the community. 

    "When they go to prison they separate them into groups so there is no infighting between the individual factions. The CV is probably the largest faction in Rio. 

    "The main challenges with this kind of work in the prison are showing the young people that there is a different way of living that there is a possibility of a new chance and a new start. 

    "Many of these boys are fearful. They fear their families, they fear their friends, they live out of fear. They feel as though there is no other option. 

    "The system in Rio is that the boys are kept for a minimum period of time as possible within the prison. So the sentences are usually three to six months. 

    "They then go to a semi secure unit where they can visit their families. The idea of rehabilitation is one that is held up here which is attempted by the state as there are social workers and psychologists. But basically the sheer numbers of people going through mean that 'aftercare' is not really attended to. 

    "So it is a bit like sticking a band aid on the issues as they come up. Unfortunately there are many situations where we deal with children `who we deal with several times and we see them again and they come back to the same situation. 

    "Sometimes they cannot leave the circle of violence and crime and they end up dead. 

    "The difficulty is they go back to their communities and the community is very tight, physically they are very tight, you know what is going on around you. 

    "The risk is you fall back almost like a recovering alcoholic or drug addict with temptation around you all the time. 

    "Sadly the reality for some of these boys is they have not done any crime, they are basically the one who has been labelled as the one who will take blame for the crime that was done by other people. 

    "In other situations the bureaucratic and administrative situation has been fluffed so they are in for a longer period than they should be. A lot of them don't have legal counsel whatsoever so they are in the hands of the state. 

    "In terms of opportunities there are few but this is where I think we can make a difference as a group and people that want to see justice done we can step in. 

    "Caring for them when they leave is a fundamental thing. Some of them just want to get out, some of them just want to carry on as they earn a lot of money. 

    "The younger you are the more likely you are to die by playing with fire as these boys do. It is a case of talking them while they are still young, showing them that there is another opportunity, but also helping them walk afterwards."  

  4. views3

    My head has been in the clouds this week as I continued to see why Rio de Janeiro is labelled as the marvellous city.

    Over the past seven days I have been lucky enough to go up Sugar Loaf Mountain and Corcovado (Christ Redeemer) and climb to Rio’s second highest peak.

    All three landmarks were fantastic with each giving me a different view of the city.

    views9Christ the Redeemer was by far the busiest of all them with hundreds of tourists cramming themselves on the platform to take photos of the statue.

    Despite the cramped and packed conditions I was in awe of this piece of architecture.  To build such a thing on top of a rock amazed me and I could see why it is one of the wonders of the world.

    The views of the lagoon and the iconic Maracana stadium were stunning and it was the first time I had seen Rio from ‘the sky’.views1

    A few days later I was riding high again, this time to Sugar Loaf. The mountain is shaped a bit like the end of a rugby ball and according to those who had already visited the mountain has fantastic views over Rio’s Copacabana beach.

    After getting the two cable cars up to the top, spotting a monkey or two and seeing the spot were the James Bond movie Moonraker was filmed, we made our way to the viewing point.

    Unlike Corcovado there was a lot more space to move around and you certainly had a bit more time to appreciate the sights.

    views7Again, I was blessed with clear blue skies which meant I could see for miles. Again I was not disappointed.

    Two things stood out. Firstly, just how big Copacabana beach is. The 6km sands curve round one of the city’s most densely populated areas and from a height, it just looks fantastic.

    Second thing to catch my eye was just how weird Rio is geographically. Never before have I seen a city with so many high rise buildings which are then separated by large forest covered mountains. It just looks surreal.

    So the question was could anything better these two iconic Rio landmarks?

    The answer was yes.

    At the end of last week we went on a trek through the Tijuca forest (which covers Rio de Janeiro) and climbed to the second highest peak in Rio. Higher than Corcovado and Sugar Loaf.

    It was probably the toughest hike I have ever had to do but to be rewarded with such beautiful views made all the clambering over rocks and through forest worth it. views5

    views2We also saw a python resting in a tree. Thankfully it looked as though it had just eaten.

    Perhaps what added to the trek was learning more about the history of the city, how the forest had once been chopped down in the 19th century to grow coffee but then replanted at the order of Emperor. More than 80,000 trees planted in 13 years.

    Hopefully that gives you an idea of the scale of this forest.

    I don’t think I can pick a favourite view or landmark. All three were special. All three presented me with amazing views. And all three show Rio de Janeiro is truly the ‘marvellous city’.