Baghdad, Iraq – (AFP)
As a seven-year-old boy in Baghdad, Mohamed Ali had dreams of becoming a goalkeeper — until a car bomb in the central Tahrir Square ripped away his left arm.
Today, at age 22, Ali is a member of an all-amputee football team, made up entirely of players who lost arms or legs in Iraq’s many years of war and turmoil.
The team has some 30 players and has qualified for the Amputee Football World Cup to be held in Turkey in late 2022. Its founder Mohamed al-Najjar was studying in England when he discovered a Portsmouth amputee team and decided to replicate the experience.
The Iraqi state offers financial aid to victims of attacks and of battles against terrorists. The players receive monthly allowances of between $400 and $700. Most make ends meet by working as day laborers in the markets, said Najjar.
But a major obstacle for the team is a lack of official recognition, and therefore funding, from Iraqi sports bodies.
The Poland-based International Amputee Football Federation is not part of the International Paralympic Committee. The Iraqi team therefore receives no state subsidies, said Aqil Hamid, the head of the parliamentary committee on disability sports.
For equipment and transport, the team depends on donations from associations, said Najjar. There is also occasional help from some Hashed bodies.
“They helped us with a trip to Iran, they paid for the plane tickets,” said Najjar, adding that he hoped for “wider support.”