The Other World Cup

What many people will not know is that, just like FIFA-WC, there is another world football competition which is also being held this year. That is the World Amputee Football Federation World Cup

Every schoolboy knows that the FIFA World Cup finals are being held in Russia this summer between 14 June and 15 July. However what many people will not know is that, just like FIFA-WC, there is another world football competition which is also being held this year. That is the World Amputee Football Federation World Cup (WAFF-WC).

If the WAFF is not so well known to the general public, it is not surprising as it has been around for 12 years only. Compared to FIFA which has been in existence since 1904, WAFF was formed a century later in 2005. Coincidence would have it that the previous finals were hosted and won by Russia in 2014. This time round Mexico has the privilege of hosting the games which are scheduled to be held between 24 Oct and 5 Nov 2018.

“Today Sierra Leone can boast several world class amputee football teams. Perhaps the most famous of these is the Flying Stars football club, which have featured in Al Jazeera’s Witness programme. The team is led by an ex-soldier – Bornor Kargbo – who lost his left leg when he inadvertently stepped onto an anti-personnel mine. A charismatic man, Bornor (photo) uses both psychology and prayer to motivate his troupes…”


The Amputees of Sierra Leone

In April 2012, Liberian President Charles Taylor was unanimously condemned by the UN-backed Special Court for Sierra Leone to serve a 50-year jail sentence which, with prior agreement, he is purging in a UK prison. The international court in Hague found him guilty on 11 counts of war crimes, crimes against humanity and serious violations of international humanitarian law, murder and rape.

The Sierra Leone civil war was an incredibly brutal affair. It began in March 1991 when the Revolutionary United Front — helped by Taylor’s National Patriotic Front of Liberia — attempted to overthrow the government of President Joseph Saidu Momoh. Many horrendous atrocities were committed during the 11 years of the civil war, and Taylor was well aware of these for the most part. After several false starts, peace was regained in 2002 when the UN-backed British Operation Palliser defeated the Revolutionary United Front and took control of Freetown, the capital. Consequently President Ahmad Tejan Kabbah was able to declare a definitive end to the civil war in which 50,000 people lost their lives.

Wars, all wars, invariably leave innumerable people with serious physical injuries and disabilities, not to mention deep psychological scars. The Sierra Leone civil war was no different but for one horrendous feature. It was probably unique in that much of the maiming of  civilians was inflicted as a deliberate act of cruelty. In an attempt to intimidate them, the rebels used to hack off their hands and feet with machetes. With the consequence that today Sierra Leone has the dubious honour of being home to 20% of the total world amputees.

Man’s Indomitable Spirit

In an amazing display of Man’s indomitable spirit, many amputees have gone on to form football clubs under the aegis of the Single Leg Amputee Sports Clubs (SLASC). Today Sierra Leone can boast several world class amputee football teams. Perhaps the most famous of these is the Flying Stars football club, which have featured in Al Jazeera’s Witness programme. The team is led by an ex-soldier who lost his left leg when he inadvertently stepped onto an anti-personnel mine.

His name is Bornor Kargbo. A charismatic man, he uses both psychology and prayer to motivate his troupes. “If you have done well, say thank you God. Even if you haven’t done well, still say thank you God,” he tells them. A strong, ferocious player, he has led his team of amputees to victory over the past ten years on football fields right across Africa and the world.

However on a personal level, the war still haunts Bornor. He is tormented by the trauma of losing his leg. With little money and no job, he struggles to cater for his wife and four kids. An extremely proud man, he is pained by being sometimes reduced to begging in order to survive whilst also raising funds for the Flying Stars’ sponsors, a US charity headed by Lynn Pelton, a nurse from Seattle. With the help of a benevolent businessman, he is currently learning to repair portable generators which he hopes will give him the means to better support himself and his family.

Paralympic Games

Like other teams, the Flying Stars club has taken part in several international tournaments. In turn these competitions have helped create international awareness and led to the creation of the WAFF. In order to make amputee football known to a wider audience, the Federation is busy lobbying the Olympics Committee (OC) to admit Amputee Football to the Paralympic Games. Starting with a handful only a few years ago, there are now 46 countries playing amputee football. So the chances are getting better but, like all international bureaucracies, the OC is not the fastest mover on Earth. Still, where there is hope… and the amputees have plenty!

However the WAFF is not FIFA where money rolls in by the billions, through sponsorship, television rights and franchises for FIFA goods. As the case of Bornor amply illustrates, amputee football does not generate much, if any, cash. There are no princely pay packets to compare with the likes of Ronaldo or Neymar. In this new and little known sport, there is no lucrative sponsorship money from manufacturers of designer sports gear, or advertising opportunities from corporates or end-to-end global exposure through radio/tv broadcast. It does not get much mention in the written media either. I must admit I had never even heard of WAFF before I watched the Al Jazeera’s Witness programme.

Survival. In the advanced countries with pensions payable to injured soldiers and social security payments to other citizens who have lost their limbs, amputee players can at least count on a regular income from their government to cover their basic needs, and receive free medical treatment and medication. In poorer countries where there is an absence of such things as social security, many are happy if they can manage to find just enough to eat and, like Bornor, find a dollar to pay for the bus fare to and from their training grounds.

If/when the OC admits amputee football to the Paralympics, the sport will automatically gain wider world recognition. With this, it is to be hoped that it will generate world radio/tv exposure interest leading to sponsorship from manufacturers of sports paraphernalia and encourage other corporates looking to use players/teams to advertise their products.

If you have ever watched the love and dedication that amputee players have for their game, this is the least that you would wish them to achieve. Let’s face it, most of us have difficulty playing the beautiful game with two feet; imagine what it must be like to play with only one leg whilst balancing your body on a pair of metal crutches.

Avanti, the WAFF!

 


Rules of the WAFF

The official FIFA sanctioned Rules total 16

  1. An amputee is defined as someone who is “abbreviated at or near the ankle or wrist.
  2. An outfield player may have 2-hands but only 1-leg, whereas a goalkeeper may have 2-feet but only 1-hand.
  1. The game is played with metal crutches, but without prostheses. Bi-lateral amputees, however, may play with prostheses.
  1. Players may not use their crutches to advance, control or block the ball. Such an action is treated as a handball infringement.
  2. Players may not use their residual limbs to advance, control or block the ball. Such an action is also treated as a handball infringement.
  1. Shin pads must be worn.
  2. Use of a crutch against a player will lead ejection from the game and a penalty kick awarded to the opposing team.
  1. The pitch measures 70m x 60m.
  2. The dimensions of the goal is 2.2m high x 5m wide x 1m deep.
  3. A FIFA standard ball is used.
  4. A game consists of two 25-mins halves, with a 10-mins rest period in-between.
  5. Both teams are allowed a 2-mins time-out per game.
  6. Offside rules do not apply to amputee football.
  7. A team is made up of 6-outfield players and 1-goalkeeper.
  8. A goalkeeper must not leave his area. Should this happen, he will be ejected from the game and a penalty kick awarded to the opposing team.
  1. An unlimited number of substitutions can be made at any point during the game.

* Published in print edition on 13 July 2018

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