Boxing Priest’s fight for peace in Syria

Father Dave Smith is a priest who knows how to pack a punch.

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Known as Fighting Father Dave, the 53-year-old priest has long tried to help troubled youths through his boxing.

“Kids who come in with, say, a heroin issue, by the time they get inside of a ring for an amateur fight, they’re not doing drugs, they’re not in trouble with the law anymore,” Father Smith said.

“Now why is that? Well, they’ve learnt self-discipline. They’ve got fit. They’ve set goals for their lives. There’s a personality change.”

Boxing is known as one of the more aggressive sports around, but Father Dave Smith said he uses it to promote peace.

He said boxing was all about channelling the violence into something positive.

Boxing for peace in Syria 

Starting in 2013, the priest and fighter has taken boxing to the war-fractured streets of Syria on four separate trips.

Father Smith is training hundreds of displaced children in his program, Boxers for Peace, in refugee camps across the country. He is trying to give them hope.

“The Syrian situation’s complex, you know, and I think you’ve got to be pretty game to try and address the political situation there, and I’m not in a position to do that,” Father Smith said.

“So rather than banging on the political front door, I thought, ‘Why don’t we just go through the back door of sport?'”

Joining him in the fight are boxers Kaveh Arya and Jacob Najjar.

Mr Najjar, 28, moved to Australia from Iraq in 1990.

Six years ago, his father returned to Iraq for a business trip and was killed in a bombing attack. 

“I just want to give the same hope to someone else who has lost his father in a bombing, or in a war-torn country. So that, itself, was just another connection,” Mr Najjar said.

“That’s what drove me into Syria.”

Kaveh Arya fled his homeland Iran and spent 18 months in a Turkish refugee camp before resettling in Australia.

Now he too is reaching out to others in need.

“We went to Syria to try to help people have a moment where they forget about the grim reality that they’re surrounded by,” Mr Arya said.

“And it might not be the long-term solution; boxing might not be the answer, per se, but, for a moment, there is a space opened in their reality in which they can escape. And that escape provides the beginning for empowerment for some people.”

The priest and his fellow boxers have another trip to Syria planned for next year.