Related Stories By Robson Sharuko Published: 20120514
Charming the World of Sport

Harare - A group of South Sudanese wheelchair basketballers and a teenage Afghan double amputee swimming sensation could use the power of sport to bring the horror of war to a global audience at the London Paralympic Games in August this year.

The South Sudanese are battling with time to clear all the hurdles but look determined to fulfil their dream of sending a wheelchair basketball team to the Paralympics in London.

Amputees injured in the war that culminated in the division of Sudan into two countries last year will make up the team.

Teenage Afghan swimmer, Mohammad Malik, is a double amputee who lost both legs in a landmine blast while walking in a field close to the Kabul International Airport.

A chance meeting with an American visitor while receiving treatment at a Kabul hospital resulted in him being sent to the United States for two years, where he was fitted with prosthetic limbs.

Crucially, he was also taught the value of sport ‑ chose to be a swimmer and now wants to win a medal for his country at the Paralympic Games in London this summer.

The Games will be held from August 29 to September 9.

It is only the second time that Britain will host the Paralympics, after sharing the staging responsibilities with the United States in 1984 when Stoke and Long Island were hosts.

The Paralympics in England will also mark only the second time, since the 2000 Games in Sydney, Australia, where athletes with intellectual disabilities will be allowed to compete in swimming, athletics and tennis.

While the Paralympics have always lived in the shadow of the Olympics, this year’s showcase  given its heart-warming stories and the city hosting it-  will battle strongly for the headlines.

There are a number of sub-plots.

For the British public, the war in Afghanistan ‑ where their military is playing a big part ‑ has been a remote one unfolding far away on the horizon and which, now and again, plays itself out on television.

Now and again, they see remains of servicemen killed in the war brought home to be buried, or those injured being rehabilitated.

But these are soldiers, and it is part and parcel of their line of duty.

It is a whole new game when a civilian injured in the same war comes to London, with no legs after they were both blown away by a landmine, hoping to make a big statement for his fatherland.

The expected arrival of a double amputee teenage Afghan boy, not as a refugee but as a bullish athlete ready to win a medal for his country in a sporting event held in Britain, will bring the horror of the war closer to their doorstep.

“The story of the young Afghan swimmer has been charming the hearts of a number of people around the world. And that he is likely to compete in London is a very big event, not only for sport but for everything associated with the spirit of humanity and how it prevails over the horrors of wars and stuff,” says leading Zimbabwean sports consultant, Shepherd Chiware.

“I believe it’s the big message that his expected presence in London will send to everyone around the world; that humans can find a way, not only to live but excel beyond the scars - physical or otherwise - inflicted on them by the horrors of war.

“He will bring a new image of the war in Afghanistan; something that until now hasn’t been shown to the kids in Britain, the unfortunate civilian victims who have been caught up in this madness and whose lives have been changed forever by what has happened.

“But, crucially, he is bringing an image of hope that defines our indomitable spirit as humans in that he is coming as a disabled person, not to beg for refuge, but to compete as a sportsperson who dreams of winning a medal for his country.

“You would have expected, with all that has happened to Mohammad that he would have grown disillusioned by his country but here he is, ready to go into the trenches for his fatherland and nothing can beat that storyline if you ask me.

“As for the South Sudanese, I’m not certain that they will be ready to clear all the hurdles for them to compete in London but, if they do, that will certainly be emotional because the Western powers, of which Britain is one, have been accused of complicity in the war in Sudan.

“Now, just a year after South Sudan gets its independence and with the guns still blazing in that country over border disputes, you get a group of disabled South Sudanese athletes representing their country in England and battling to win medals.

“That will be a very powerful message from sport and I just hope that the Afghan boy and the South Sudanese athletes compete in London because that will elevate the Paralympics to a new level.”

South Sudan Minister of Culture, Youth and Sport, Cirino Hiteng Ofuho, revealed earlier this year that the country was targeting the Paralympics in London.

“Right now we are discussing with the IOC (International Olympic Committee) to see if we can raise our flag in London,” Ofuho told Reuters.

“I believe there is enough time for us to be there, not only to raise our flag but to also have some athletes participate.

“We are focussing on the Paralympics where our disabled basketballers are every good. I really believe they can entertain the people in London. “We may also field some long distance runners. We have the right terrain to train our talent for this sport.” There are hurdles that need to be cleared first and South Sudan has to fulfil certain requirements of the IOC before their dream can come true. Our associations are working very hard to gain their membership and to fulfil the requirements of the International Olympic Committee to admit South Sudan in London,” said Ofuho.

“It’s a race against time but there’s a lot of goodwill. Right from our independence we have been admitted to a lot of international institutions and we hope that the IOC will afford us the same privilege.”

The South Sudanese were granted provisional membership by the Confederation of African Football in February this year and are expected to be accepted into the FIFA family at the Congress in Budapest this month. The country, though, will not compete in the 2013 Nations Cup qualifiers, which are already underway.

Afghanistan has been competing in a number of sporting disciplines around the globe for some time now and is making its presence felt in cricket, where it has associate member status in the International Cricket Council.

But none of its athletes have made as much an impact, in just one event, as is likely to be made by Malik if he makes it to the London Paralympics. “This is my first competition and I’m going to London. I hope that I’ll get some award from over there for my country Afghanistan,” Mohammad told the aljameheir website.

“When I came here (to the US), people … (were) taking pictures with me and saying ‘this is your house, your home.

You can come any time and do anything. We are happy to have you here’.

“They are just encouraging me and saying ‘Malik - God bless you’. I need support; I need help because I’m representing Afghanistan – especially disabled people.”