LONDON—After his last fight at the London Games, Brazilian boxer Juliao Henriques climbed out of the ring and announced his intention to continue fighting as an amateur and qualify for the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janiero.
It’s a lofty ambition for the 30-year-old flyweight, whose category is full of competitors in their 20s.
“With God’s help, I’ll be taking part in the games in my country,” he said.
Many might ask why Henriques, the fourth-oldest boxer out of 250 at the Olympics, isn’t turning pro, a potentially lucrative move many amateur boxers make after an Olympic appearance.
Henriques can afford to remain an amateur thanks to his country’s national oil company, Petrobras, which is pumping money into sport in an effort to produce winners when the Olympics roll into Rio in 2016.
“In Brazil, boxers get assistance from Petrobras and we don’t need to go professional,” he said. “Things have improved so much since they have supported us and international results demonstrate that.”
It’s a theory supported by another Brazilian, light heavyweight Yamaguchi Falcao, one of two brothers competing in London.
“We live better as Olympians than as professionals,” Falcao said after his first victory last week.
Brazil came to London with seven male and three female boxers—the third biggest team along with Russia, Britain and Kazakhstan, and behind only Australia and the United States.
The South American country has three boxers left in the tournament, brothers Yamaguchi and Esquiva Falcao in the men’s categories and Adriana Araujo in the women’s.
Esquiva and Araujo are already assured of at least a bronze medal after qualifying for the semifinals in their categories, while Yamaguchi will fight Wednesday in the heavyweight quarterfinals.
Brazil took six boxers to the 2008 Beijing Games and left with no medals.
The recent success of Brazilian boxers has its roots in a federal aid program initiated years ago by ex-President Lula Da Silva. Its aim was to make the sport stronger ahead of the 2016 Rio Games. Monthly payments are made in three categories: $250 to student boxers, $450 to national boxers and $900 to international boxers, Brazilian coaching staff official Matheus Alves said.
But this alone isn’t sufficient to support an elite amateur athlete. The livelihood of a boxer like Henriques, for example, is also supplemented by income provided thanks to a sports incentive law signed in 2007, which permits private companies to divert 1 percent of their profits to the benefit of Olympic sports.
The program, criticized by some groups as a form of covert sponsorship, has allowed Petrobras to allocate large sums of money to strengthen sports like boxing, fencing, weightlifting, rowing and taekwondo.
In 2011, Petrobras said it spent about $1.86 million to help boxing, the sport which has most benefited as part of the program.
“The program has certain requirements for brand exposure, helping to reinforce the image of Petrobras as a major partner in national sport,” Petrobras spokeswoman Anabelly Pontes said in an email.
The economic aid has meant a different life for boxers like Henriques, allowing him to take care of his mother, pregnant wife and seven siblings.
“I can concentrate on boxing because I have more money, trainers, psychologists, physiotherapists, and in case of injury, the rehabilitation is better,” he said.
“Many professionals don’t have this,” Falcao said.