Disability sports, Para sports/adaptive sports, and Special Olympics have steadily grown internationally and regionally.

 

The two distinctive sports provide great opportunities for the athletes- Special Olympics focuses on persons with intellectual disabilities- as more acceptance and inclusivity is encouraged in the sector; boosted with the progress of the Paralympic Games.

 

Also Read: Gor Mahia part ways with coach Pinto

 

Despite this fact, they continue to struggle with accessibility, availability of resources, talent development structures, and cultural stigmas associated with disability. However, this has not hindered their pursuit for success and victory and changing the narrative, that disability is indeed not inability.

 

If I were to ask most of the football fans in Kenya what they know about the National Amputee Football Team, the answer would be in between a surprised No, and flashes of memories from when they made headlines for the continuous underserved welcomes at the Ministry of Sports office after the World Cup in 2016, 2018 and 2019 East Africa Championships. Brutal. But quite honestly, they’re not entirely to blame, the minimal exposure and visibility of the team from mainstream media and other sources have played a huge role, despite their great exploits both at the regional and global stage.

 

At the leadership level, the Amputee Team is governed by an independent body, the Kenya National Amputee Federation, under the umbrella of the World Amputee Football Federation (WAFF) and Amputee Football Federation of Africa (AFFA). There have been recent talks of working with the Football Kenya Federation (FKF), although nothing has developed yet.

 

Notably, this affiliation would be of great benefit and leverage to the team, and critical towards advancing disability football in the country. The federation is led by Mr. Peter Oloo, the Secretary-General, whose dedication and commitment are central to the success of the team. Currently, we have football clubs in about 8 counties-Nairobi, Mombasa, Bomet, Trans Nzoia, Kiambu, Kakamega, Bungoma, and Kisumu- who play against each other during the regular season.

 

It is their hope that they will be able to incorporate more counties and expand to a proper Amputee Football League. The National Team selection takes place through tournaments among the different teams organized by the federation.

 

The National Amputee Team is comprised of a diverse group of talented players plying their trade locally and internationally. One of their key players, recently retired, Dalmas Otieno, has been a key figure in the team as their leader and captain. Before his retirement, he played in Eyyübiye FC, in the Turkish Division One amputee football league for 7 years.

Kenya Amputee team in a past action against USA (Image|Nairobi Amputee Football Club)

Other players include Mohammed Munga and Brian Oroka who also play for Şanliurfa Eyyübiye Amputee football club who were recently crowned 2020-2021champions, and earned their promotion to the Super League. Mohammed Munga bagged the top scorer’s golden boot in the same league. Nicholls Keiyo is another key player who plays for Etmesgut Amputee football club in the Turkish Super League and was also crowned 2020-2021 champions.

 

This is not to say that it has been a smooth journey for the players, as they struggle with the lack of or minimal support from the fans and leadership, visibility, and access to basic resources in their pursuit for more national victories. According to the team, their most urgent needs include crutches, balls, jerseys, shin guards, and soccer boots, all of which are basic to their participation. The dire state forced them to borrow crutches from participating teams during the two world cups – Ireland and Haiti-which are appalling, to say the least. Still, they put their best foot forward.

 

Currently, the team is in preparations for the upcoming AFCON scheduled for November 2021 in Dar es Salaam, which also doubles up as the World Cup 2022 Qualifiers. The World Cup will be held in Antalya, Turkey in October 2022. They have displayed a huge desire to bag this year’s Africa Cup and represent Kenya at the World Cup to add to their long list of achievements, and hopefully increase their rankings from 2nd best team in Africa, after Angola, and 12th globally. They are yet to report camp due to their challenges in finding a proper training facility.

The team in a past tournament in Mexico.

They had requested to use the City stadium but only got approval a day before the writing of this article. They’re also contending with assembling the team at the allocated time due to work commitments as the players fend for their families. The team is set to officially begin their training on the second week of July 2021 at City Stadium or Parklands Sports Club. The latter have been very supportive of the team since 2017 by providing them with the training grounds.

 

It is therefore essential that all football stakeholders in their different capacities-fans, media personalities, leaders, and players- display more support and recognition for the National Amputee Team, and reaffirm their value as key players in the Kenyan football ecosystem. Furthermore, we call for more efforts from the government and corporates towards providing financial backing/ sponsorship to fund and sustain their club activities.

 

The team shared their great aspirations for the local amputee football scene; they believe that the formation of an Amputee football league and the society’s support, both financial and moral, will play a huge role in creating more awareness of the game, empower more persons with disabilities to participate, and encourage a more inclusive sporting environment. It is my hope that you will play your part to this end.

 

Also Read: Wins for Wazito, AFC in Friday tests

 

Story by Judith Macharia 

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