Bernardo Oliveira champions blood donation in Brazil during COVID-19 pandemic

It’s a question that has resonated across the globe.  

“What can I do to help?”

For Bernardo Oliveira, the Brazilian recurve archer who took part in the recent Lockdown Knockout, the answer has been to leverage his influence as an Olympic athlete to encourage the sports community to donate blood.

While COVID-19 has consumed much of the focus within the health sector in recent months, many patients have still needed blood donations. The source of those donations, however, has waned in response to social distancing.

“Even though we’re under lockdown, there are still a lot of people who need help,” said Oliveira. “People with cancer, people who get in car accidents – they still need blood.”

Following the news from his home in Brasilia, Oliveira decided to use his platform to raise awareness of the issue.

He consulted with a media relations representative from a local blood bank, then took to Facebook, Twitter and Instagram to encourage his fellow athletes in Brazil to help champion the cause.

“There aren’t any metrics that we’re shooting for,” said Oliveira. “The ultimate goal is to simply have people donate wherever they can. It doesn’t matter where they are, which state, which city. It’s our duty to use the influence that we’ve been given for good. I just want to do my share.”

Athletes tend to view themselves as better equipped to avoid the worst consequences of COVID-19. They are, in general, physically fitter.

But they are also among the least suited to having their meticulously organised lives disrupted by this pandemic.

“In high-level sports, we try to control everything,” said Oliveira. “We want to control all the variables we can – to reach the highest performance possible. And then these challenging times come.”

“We don’t know what tomorrow is going to be like. We don’t know what to prepare for. We feel so powerless. There’s nothing we can do about it.”

Unifying his fellow countrymen, he said, has returned some sense of control.

“The world literally stopped,” said Oliveira, who said during his Lockdown Knockout qualification video that he had last shot a scored round in March. “It helped me realise what an empty space it left. I didn’t know how much I’d miss it until it was gone.”

The hiatus on competition also widened the pool of prospective blood donors.

While Oliveira said he wasn’t concerned that donating would affect his own abilities as an archer, he acknowledged that many athletes might normally hesitate to partake for fear of a dip in performance.

And although he anticipated some people might be reluctant, he was pleased with the positive response.

“I agreed right away,” said Matheus Américo, a track and field athlete who specialises in the 800 metres. “You can’t turn something like this down. I quickly realised I could make a difference in somebody else’s life and also motivate other athletes and the community to donate.”

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A post shared by Bernardo Oliveira (@bbr_oliveira) on Apr 16, 2020 at 6:14pm PDT

Oliveira fell to Canada’s Crispin Duenas, the eventual champion of the Lockdown Knockout, in the quarterfinals. The Brazilian archer has since returned to his philanthropic efforts.

He wants to add to the list of basketball, volleyball, track and field, and judo athletes who have joined him in helping a country that has been hit particularly hard by this pandemic.

Bernardo expects to donate blood again in the next couple of weeks.

“It’s funny,” he said. “When everything is going on as usual, everyone wishes for time to stop and breathe and think. And now we have it. There’s no excuse anymore. We’ve all had the opportunity to self-improve, and I’m trying to make the most of it.”