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Sierra Leone's Amputees Strive for Football Success


Amputee war victims in Sierra Leone are hard at work preparing for the upcoming (November 8th to 18th) amputee football World Cup in Turkey. The sport started 30 years ago in El Salvador, when victims of war decided to keep playing their favorite sport despite their wounds. VOA's Nico Colombant and Kari Barber report.

It is time for practice drills at the Aberdeen sea-side football pitch in Freetown, Sierra Leone.

Field players are one-legged. Goalkeepers are one-armed. Players are in their late teens and early 20s.

Two-legged Sierra Leoneans say they are proud of their amputee national team, which has done better in international competition than their two legged-teams.

Some of the players had limbs hacked off. Some had bullet wounds, but without first aid care, they also lost a limb.

Outside the football pitch, many say they feel like outcasts. With every game they play, they say, their confidence slowly returns.

One of those trying to make the World Cup squad is Mohammed Lapia.

He lost his leg when he stepped on a land mine. He says he was told about the opportunity to play again at a post-war amputee camp. "One of the pastors went to us and told us that even if we have lost our leg, that is not the end of our own life. So we need to do something to sustain our life."

Many on the rundown field say football became even more of a joy than before their injuries when they found out they still had the drive to play.

Lapia says it helps him to keep a positive outlook on life. "The football makes me not think about the past, not to think about my leg that I have already lost, encourage me to forget about everything."

Organizers lead the players in pre-game songs.

During the recent All-African Amputee Cup of Nations held in Freetown, Sierra Leone fielded two teams. They finished third and fourth, behind the winner Ghana and the runner-up Liberia, another West African country where many children also became victims of war.

Sierra Leone, Ghana and Liberia are due to represent Africa at the upcoming Amputee World Cup in Turkey. Many of the players here also compete at club level on teams throughout Sierra Leone. They say they were athletes before war cut them down, and they refuse to let their suffering crush their dreams.