The first All-African Amputee Football Championship, supported by FIFA, recently took place in Freetown, Sierra Leone. I happened to come across a series of photos in Sports Illustrated featuring the athletes involved that gave me a glimpse into the competition and what it's about. I had to learn more.
Four participating nations, Ghana, Liberia, Nigeria and Sierra Leone, gave thousands of spectators a tournament to remember. Soccer for amputees has thus far received little global recognition; however, the local media covered the competition, along with the BBC, Reuters and France Television. Also, 10,000 spectators present at Freetown's national stadium for the opening game between Sierra Leone and Ghana, and some 40,000 attending over the five days of the event.
Soccer has given hope to so many men struck by tragedy, and helped rebuild the futures of members of Africa's most traumatized communities. "Football has saved my life. I never thought I'd play the game again until I discovered football for amputees. It's given me hope again," Victor Musa, captain of the team from Sierra Leone, told FIFA.
There were an estimated 4,000 such amputations during the civil war, which lasted from 1991-2000 and resulted in an estimated 50,000 deaths. Many of these amputations were caused by anti-personnel mines, bullet wounds, torture, or a lack of proper first aid.
Ghana won the event, overcoming Liberia 4-3 in the final. The country's minister, Dennis Bright, summed up the general feeling when he said, "You've proved to the world that you're not second-class citizens but real heroes."
(Photo provided by AFP/taken by Issouf Sanogo)