England: Czech emigré of Romani origin establishes boxing team for children from the Czech Republic and Slovakia
Ladislav Žiga, a Romani man born in Prague's Žižkov quarter, has dedicated himself to boxing since childhood. In Prague he was trained by the legendary Stanislav Tišer, also from the Romani community, who dedicated himself above all to helping children who were spending time on the street.
Today the 30-year-old Žiga lives in Gloucester, England. He decided to follow in his trainer's footsteps and build a boxing team for children there.
Today Žiga teaches the sport to 25 children from the Czech and Slovak community. He shares not just his experience from sports with them, but also his lessons from life.
"We box and I supervise their school performance. This endeavor is about integrating them into normal life and thereby suppressing crime," he told HateFree.cz, the website of the Czech Government's Hate Free Culture project.
Žiga grew up in Žižkov, a neighborhood of Prague known for its Romani community and working-class history. His older brother, Vladimír, brought him to boxing at a very early age.
He and his friends then trained as part of Tišer's team - their trainer was a seven-time national champion who had dedicated himself to professional boxing for 25 years. After his career came to a close, Tišer decided to continue in the sport and to dedicate himself above all to street children as a trainer.
Tišer established and built up the Žižkov Boxing Club to serve that community. "It was after the  revolution, when our Romani youth began to hang out in the parks on a large scale. It may also have been because they were afraid of the growing numbers of skinheads. They just hung out sniffing toluene, they didn't have the money for more expensive drugs. I told myself that I had to do something for them," Tišer previously told the Czech daily news server Lidovky.
Thanks to hard work, his plan was fulfilled. "Nobody here has ever allowed anybody to harm anyone else in front of me, we're like a big family. A diverse one, there are Roma here, whites, Ukrainians, Belarussians, Kazakhs, Italians, young and very old people. The skinheads also come for lessons, but they always leave their hatred outside. Some of them, thanks to this training, even left that racist nonsense behind them. Some drug users also got clean as well," Tišer proudly reported.
Žiga says he is also grateful to Tišer for many things. "He didn't want to see us hanging out in the parks and scuffling in the street. He guided us with strict discipline, and it helped me. Even though I did leave the straight and narrow several times, I always found refuge in boxing and at the gym," he recalls.
In the footsteps of his trainer
Five years ago, Žiga met a girl and moved to England to be with her. "I didn't like it here that first month, but I enjoyed seeing how so many nationalities live together here, how the Roma go to work and are friends with everybody," he says.
The friendly atmosphere motivated him to start his boxing career on a professional level. It was not meant to be, though.
Žiga was involved in a serious car accident, the consequences of which he is grappling with to this day. "I've had 14 surgeries on my back and leg and I'm lucky to be alive," he describes.
"When I was wheelchair-bound, I got the idea for how to remain in boxing," Žiga relates. "I'd follow in the footsteps of my trainer, Tišer."
After almost two years of convalescence, Žiga began to build his own boxing team. He contacted local clubs and soon got an answer from Sam Schilder, a Brazilian Jiu Jitsu trainer who runs the Pro Systems BJJ club in Gloucester and has worked with children himself for years, so he did not hesitate to support Žiga's aims.
All for one and one for all
Today Žiga is training his team, called "All for One", at Schilder's gym - 25 children between the ages of six and 18. "I focused above all on the Czech and Slovak [Roma] youth. Naturally the door is open to anybody, but I didn't want to see everybody else have a base when there was nothing for the Roma. I took this into my own hands and I'm proud I can be the person to motivate them for the future," he explains.
His team is just in its third month, but the results are already showing. "Today it's progress if the children even want to do sports at all," he believes.
"I have the opportunity to follow three of the children more closely, both in the community and at school. They have managed to break away from a bad bunch, and now they're doing their best at school. It's a joy to follow the younger ones as they learn not just how to box, but how to be disciplined, punctual, how to aid those who are weaker, not to laugh at them. I mainly instill in them that they should have aims and go for them. If they want to become President, they should go for it," he says.
Despite the project being in its infancy, Žiga is already motivating others. He has captured the attention of Petr Torák, another Romani emigré from the Czech Republic to England who has received an MBE for his work with immigrant and minority communities as a police officer.
"I really appreciate that you came all the way from Gloucester to visit us. Your performance was a great success, it's a shame we don't have a similar club in Peterborough," Torák wrote in response to an exhibition performed there by Žiga's team.
Finding sponsors to aid with establishing a similar team in Peterborough or other towns is also one of Žiga's aims. He is also planning to get involved with a project for the parents and others from the Czech and Slovak-speaking communities in the UK.
"I'm interested above all in people who have something to contribute, who have qualifications. I want to give them the opportunity to perfect their English, to work on computers, to complete all the necessary paperwork for their lives here. I am doing my best to include them," he explains.
"The children are our future. Even if I'm not changing the world, at least a team for children will remain here once I'm gone. As long as I'm alive I will be doing my best to aid and motivate more and more people. I would like to get the support of sponsors from the Czech Republic for my aims - after all, this is about our people," he says in closing.
First published on HateFree.cz.
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