This past weekend Roberto Abreu won the IBJJF 2021 World No-Gi championship in the +97 kg category. A day later The New York Times reported that a number of former students at his Fight Sports BJJ academy network are accusing Abreu of failing to act when notified about accusations of sexual assaults involving trainers at his schools.
Among the cases profiled by NYT is that of Marcel Gonçalves, a former instructor at the Fight Sports branch in Naples, FL. In 2018 Gonçalves was charged with three counts of sexual assault against a 16-year-old girl. Gonçalves had been that girl’s trainer since she was around 12-years-old and was once considered a family friend.
Gonçalves skipped a court date in September regarding this case and his whereabouts is currently unknown.
When news broke about Gonçalves’ arrest, Abreu wrote on Instagram that “sexual assault can never be tolerated” and that his “heart breaks for the victim and her family”. Abreu also wrote that the perpetrator in this case would “be held responsible.”
However, Abreu has been accused of remaining in close contact with Gonçalves and continuing to welcome him to the Fight Sports gym.
Abreu is a longtime friend to Gonçalves. The pair hail from the same area of Brazil and Abreu is the godfather to one of Gonçalves’ children.
Abreu and Gonçalves’ interactions, post-sex assault charges, have been documented on an Instagram account titled BJJ Truth. That account, ran by Mo Jassim—head organizer for Abu Dhabi Combat Club, is dedicated to sharing stories and accusations of sexual assault within the BJJ community.
In addition to the evidence presented on BJJ Truth, NYT also quoted a Fight Sports gym owner who said that Abreu had remarked that what Gonçalves was accused of “wasn’t even that bad” and that the victim “was 16 and she wanted it.” Abreu denied making these comments when asked by NYT.
Another case covered by NYT is an accusation by Hind Chaouat, who said she was assaulted while attending a Fight Sports training camp in Bonito, Brazil in 2016. She told NYT that another BJJ fighter, Paulo Félix Figueiró, was charged with attempted rape after he climbed on top of her while she was asleep in her hotel room.
Chaouat said that Abreu told her that because she had not been penetrated that the incident “was no big deal”. Chaouat also said that Abreu and the coach at the Fight Sports gym in Morocco, where she trained, pressured her to drop the charges. She complied, while still in Brazil, and has since cited fear for her safety as the reason why.
Abreu denied that he said that remark to Chaouat and that he pressured her into dropping the charges.
Mandy Schneider is also featured in the NYT piece. She claims she was manipulated into drinking wine as a 16-year-old and was then raped by her Fight Sports instructor Rodrigo da Costa Oliveira in October 2020. That suspected assault happened on the eve of a BJJ competition in Houston, TX.
Oliveira has since left the country and is believed to be in Brazil. He faces charges of trafficking a child to engage in sexual conduct.
Another Fight Sports instructor mentioned in the article is Tony Harris Jr. He was convicted of sexually assaulting a 15-year-old student in 2014.
Abreu said that he has revoked the black-belts of Gonçalves, Oliveira and Harris. In a lengthy recent statement on Instagram Abreu acknowledged the abuse that has happened within the Fight Sports ecosystem.
“To the victims and their families, I am sorry for my poor handling, ill-preparedness and lack of proper leadership to address the horrible experience they had to go through,” he wrote.
Abreu has also stated that Fight Sports will implement a zero-tolerance policy on sexual misconduct and that a special hotline will be set up for Fight Sports’ students to report incidents of sexual assault or harassment.
Former Fight Sports member Nathanial Quiles, who trained at the Miami flag-ship location, told NYT that if someone is sexually assaulted they should call the police and not an in-house hot-line. Quiles added that Fight Sports “should have always” had a zero tolerance policy to the kind of things that have happened over the past decade.