Kenyans affected by dwarfism are using football (soccer) to fight stigma. The Short Stature Society of Kenya formed East Africa's first dwarf football (soccer) team just over a year ago, with the hope of turning it into a national league to spread across the region.
In Nairobi’s City Stadium – a football team stretches, jogs and makes quick fist bumps.
Ten minutes later, a referee blows the whistle, marking the start of the first friendly match between Kenya’s Lion Stars FC team and the McMilan FC made up of under 14's.
This is no ordinary game – it is a match pitting Kenyan dwarves against a teen club.
Ruth Mueni, the chairperson of the Short Stature Society of Kenya, is among the founders of the Lion Stars.
“It was a good idea to start it because it creates awareness about us, we need people to note about us, let us tell a story ourselves but not to let people tell a story about us,” Mueni said.
The Lions lose the game against the under 14's, 2-nil, but easily take the one against the under 10s, one-nil.
Lions FC team captain Joseph Maina is happy with his team’s progress.
“From the look of the games that they have played I can say that from day to day, my guys have improved a lot; if we are to complete this journey and hit our target which is the World Dwarf games and Copa Labaja in Peru, they have to believe in themselves,” Maina said.
The other teams say they have a worthy opponent, as Joseph Ochieng, the coach for under 14's, explains.
“I think if they can be motivated they can do very well, the way they are opening, they are running, if they continue training they can beat other teams outside,” Ochieng said.
Estimates from the Kenya’s National Bureau of Statistics indicate that about 3,000 Kenyans are affected by dwarfism. The Short Stature Society of Kenya has just over 600 members.
They use sports to come together and fight the stigma often associated with their height.
The team, however, has challenges to overcome, as Mueni explains.
“In terms of equipment like the soccer balls that we are using, it’s not the normal balls; it is size four. We have one; we need more,” Mueni said.
Apart from soccer, the society has badminton players who will participate next month in a world championship tournament in Geneva.