MEXICO CITY (AP) — Residents of Mexico City's legendarily tough neighborhood of Tepito are taking up a new form of handball known as frontball after promoters chose it for the sport's first international tourney.
The so-called "Barrio Bravo" in the city's downtown is known for producing boxers. On its streets, kids play improvised soccer matches on concrete or slap rubber balls against the sides of buildings.
That's the basic idea behind frontball, a hybrid of handball and Basque pelota that its promoters want to make accessible, educational and socially constructive.
"They said we were crazy for wanting to hold a world championship in Tepito, but the proof is here with all these people who have come to see the sport," said Jean Michel Idiart of the International Federation of Basque Pelota. "One of the goals of frontball is to create an urban sport that promotes social integration, and that's why we're here."
In frontball, players bounce a leather-covered ball against a vertical wall and return it.
"We came up with this game because it makes pelota easy to play anywhere, because all you need is a ball and a wall," Idiart said.
Tepito resident Arturo Mares said he feels honored that they brought the tournament to Tepito, which has a reputation for crime among some.
"I wish they brought here more tournaments like this. That way we could change the image of Tepito," Mares said.
Idiart said they approached the government of the borough of Cuauhtemoc, where Tepito is located, to help find a gym where they could set up a court to host the tournament, which took place from July 18-22.
Federation officials said the investment came to around $200,000 and that the court will remain there for Tepito residents to continue slapping balls long after the international athletes are gone.
"I gave my best because the people from Tepito got my back," said Fatima Moreno, from the Mexican national team. "But also thinking that we?re planting a seed to see this sport grow in this neighborhood."