2014 Amputee World Cup

22 Dec

wc2014-logo-full-smCongratulations to the Russian national football team for winning the 2014 Amputee World Cup on December 7 in Sinaloa, Culiacán, Mexico! They beat unranked Angola in the final to take first place.

Turkey beat Poland 1-0 for third place. Prior to the tournament, Poland released a great documentary profiling their national team. I highly recommend watching it. Don’t worry, it has English sub-titles.

Speaking of profiles, Mexico’s national team was the subject of a FIFA Weekly article in November:

Moving On
Eighteen-year-old Baruch is one of Mexico’s best young footballers. His mother is in charge of keeping his press clippings and here he is in one action shot, holding himself suspended between his two crutches to smash a stinging volley past the goalkeeper.

Two years ago, Baruch’s left leg was amputated to halt the spread of a malignant tumour. “Nothing changed when they took the leg,” Baruch shrugs, flicking on through the plastic envelopes. “I’m better with my right one anyway.” Baruch is the captain of Guerreros Aztecas, a volunteer-run team of amputee footballers whose ages, backgrounds and professions cover the full sweep of Mexican society.

From a government lawyer to a one-armed waiter at one of the city’s best cantinas, from a 25-year-old high-school student to a 42-year-old ex-quarterback, their stories are no less varied. One of their midfielders lost a leg saving a girl from an on-rushing train. Their goalie lost his arm in an industrial laundry.

Together, their experiences shed light on one of Mexico’s most vulnerable populations: men of working age who are missing a limb. Only 25% are in employment or study.

23-man squad
In a city where accidents and illness force 1,500 male amputees out of work every year, Guerreros Aztecas is as much about winning back dignity and masculine identity as it is about winning games. And they are winning. Founded one year ago by five players, they now have a squad of twenty-three. Seven of them have made the national team’s shortlist to represent Mexico at this December’s Amputee Soccer World Cup in Sinaloa.

One of them would have been Baruch. Expelled from school for missing too many classes during his chemo- therapy, Guerreros Aztecas has filled a big gap in his life. “It’s my dream to represent the guys, because they’re like family to me, but my breath’s killing me these days,” he says.

While his mother and grand- mother have kept him in the dark about the latest metastasis, he’s been Googling his symptoms – the coughing, the spitting, the hot, coin-sized discus of pain in his back. “I’m trying to use what I’ve learned from football – how to stay cool when things are hard, how to focus on the present, all that stuff.”

As Baruch’s team-mates gather to help him face the biggest challenge of his short life, we talk to them about how they use their humour, their camaraderie and above all their football to keep their heads held high.

New perspectives
We also talked with Rodrigo Fernandez Loya, 25, one of the team’s biggest hopes for the World Cup. Having been involved in a local ‘barrio’ gang for a lengthy period, he says that the self-discipline he has developed during his time with Guerreros Aztecas has helped him turn his life around and swap the street-corner for the classroom of his local high school.

“After the accident, I spent a year saying ‘I can’t, I can’t’. It seemed like too much to go on. Then I joined the team. They welcomed me, hugged me, made me feel part of it all, and didn’t ask any questions about who I was before. Now I look down and see my missing leg, and I think ‘Whatever, it happened. Keep moving’.”

Keep moving. Great advice for all of us. These players are so inspiring and kick-ass. I wish this World Cup and the players received more attention; there was very little press coverage during the event.

The tournament itself has grown from 12 teams in 2012 to 23 in 2014. Hopefully interest and attention will double (at least) leading up to the next one. More videos like these making the rounds would certainly help:

-hopechaser

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