paris — Max Brito, who was left a tetraplegic during his country Ivory Coast’s 1995 Rugby World Cup pool match with Tonga, has died aged 54, his family announced on Tuesday.
A dashing, 27-year-old dreadlocked wing, he arrived at the tournament in South Africa full of hope for himself and his team and got his starting spot for the Tonga clash due to his brother being injured.
But just minutes into the game in Rustenburg, he collapsed under a crunching tackle from flank Inoke Afeaki and was crushed beneath an avalanche of bodies. Two of his vertebrae were shattered.
“The Brito family, his children Mike and Anthony, sadly announce the death of Max Brito, on Monday December 19 at 1830 (1730 GMT),” read the family statement on the website of French club Biscarrosse Olympique Rugby.
“Max went on his last voyage with dignity and without suffering.”
Brito, despite undergoing several operations following the incident, could only move his head and upper body and had limited movement in his arms.
His wife left him and he was increasingly embittered as although some came to his aid financially – New Zealand legend Jonah Lomu auctioned his All Black shirt from the 1995 World Cup – many did not.
“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 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.
“This bloody handicap. 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.”
However, as time moved on Brito came to accept his plight.
“I would say there were 13 or 14 years of fog where I didn’t know where I was,” he told Britain’s i newspaper in 2020.
“The accident was very violent. But after that I had a spiritual enlightenment and I understood that it was necessary to accept my handicap.
“And from that moment on, all the doors were open.”