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African Amputees kick off
by Amin George Forji
2007-02-12 08:39:29
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On February 9th, Sierra Leone began hosting the All-African Amputee Football Championships for the first time. Colourful choreography marked the start of the tournament organised at Freetown's National Stadium.

Almost 8,000 spectators were in attendance, with banners calling on people to treat the amputees like any other person, without any discrimination. The competition has been organised with the full sponsorship of the world's football governing body, FIFA, and will run until next Wednesday.

Each team is comprised of seven players notably; six one-legged players and a one-armed goalkeeper. Three of the five nations taking part in the tournament, Sierra Leone, Liberia and Angola are former war-torn countries, while the two others, Ghana and Nigeria have a legacy of former military dictatorships.

The start of the competition suffered a major setback when the Nigerian team that was supposed to play the opening game against hosts Sierra Leone had still not arrived by the time the choreography began in the day. The team had began their journey three days earlier choosing to come to Freetown from Lagos by bus, so organisers were the organisers were contemplating adjourning the match for Saturday.

Another notable fact of the tournament is that, aside from Ghana and Nigeria, most of the players from all the other teams have lost limbs as a consequence of the wars in their various countries. The Nigerian and Ghanaian selections are handicapped either as a result of natural consequence or victims from ethnic conflicts.

Nigeria is the only team that has professional players in its selection. However, it's Sierra Leone that has the best experience. They took part in the 2005 Amputee World Cup and emerged third, taking home the bronze medal; they have also had spells in Brazil, Russia and Britain.

Talking to the BBC, the Sierra Leonean coach, Mose Mambu expressed pride and confidence on his boys, "Our two-legged people are failures…we want to bring football back to life through these amputees. I have confidence in my boys, although Nigeria has professional players, we have the technical capability and we are the hosts. We're here to explain to our African brothers that after war, after conciliation, something positive is happening. We're like ambassadors of peace.”

The winner of the tournament will represent Africa at the World Amputee Football Championship taking place in Turkey later in the year.

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