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Maxime Mbanda's extraordinary acts shine like a beacon in these dark times

Eamonn Sweeney


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Maxime Mbanda: ‘As long as I’m strong, I’ll keep going. I’m here and I’m staying here’

Maxime Mbanda: ‘As long as I’m strong, I’ll keep going. I’m here and I’m staying here’

Maxime Mbanda: ‘As long as I’m strong, I’ll keep going. I’m here and I’m staying here’

Fair play to Conor McGregor. Times like this reveal the true measure of a man and in pledging €1 million to fight Covid-19 the MMA star has done this country some service. "I know a good tough fight when I see one, and we have one on our hands now," he says, "I want to call on my people, the great people of Ireland, this fight needs us all." Divil the bad word you'll read about him in this column ever again.

Cristiano Ronaldo and his agent Jorge Mendes are funding three new intensive care units in Portugal, two in Lisbon and one in Porto at a cost of over €1 million. Mendes also provided 1,000 masks and 200,000 protective gowns to the Sao Joao hospital in Porto.

Pep Guardiola and Lionel Messi have donated €1 million to the fight against the disease. In North London, Jose Mourinho has been helping to prepare and deliver food parcels to the elderly.

But perhaps the greatest story of sporting heroism in the epidemic is that of Italian rugby international Maxime Mbanda. When rugby ground to a halt, the 27-year-old Zebre flanker wondered how he could help out in Zebre's home city of Parma, one of the worst-hit places in the worst hit country on the planet.

"I found the Yellow Cross which had a transport service for medicine and food for the elderly," says Mbanda, "I found myself transferring positive patients from one local hospital to another. I help with the stretchers or if there are patients to be carried from the wheelchair. I also hold the oxygen."

Now he's working 12- and 13-hour shifts as an ambulance driver. "Faced with what I see in the infectious disease rooms, I tell myself that I can't be tired. As long as I'm strong, I'll keep going. I'm here and I'm staying here."

Mbanda, whose Congolese father is a surgeon in a Milan hospital, is an extraordinary young man. Earlier this year he donated his rugby kit to Tre Rose Nere, a team largely made up of West African refugees which plays in the town of Casale Monferato, 40 miles from Turin. He also led training sessions, found them a sponsor and encouraged his team-mates to donate equipment.

These are trying times during which it's very easy to get depressed about the amount of suffering caused by the disease. But it's worth remembering that wherever it has struck the pandemic has brought out the best in human beings, far more often than it's brought out the worst.

So if you're tempted to lapse into despair, think of Maxime Mbanda and the doctors and nurses he says are, "on 20- or 22-hour shifts, not sleeping one minute of the day and just trying to get some rest the next day." Tell your children about them and feel proud that you're a member of the same species as these extraordinary Italians.

Whatever happens on the pitch, I think we've found 2020's World Rugby Player of the Year.

Sunday Independent