- - Wednesday, December 7, 2011

ACCRA, GhanaSani Boubakar, 28, lost his right leg 10 years ago in an auto accident in his hometown of Doutchi, Niger.

“On that day, I knew I would be disabled forever,” he said.

He moped around his family’s home for two years until he discovered other young men missing legs but playing soccer in a new national team for the Amputee Football Federation of Africa.

“I saw some of my friends doing it and thought, ‘I’m strong, and I’m young, and I want my country to be known around the world.’ So I joined,” Mr. Boubakar said.

Last week, he and 15 teammates represented Niger in the competition for the 2011 Cup of African Nations for Amputee Football.

Angola, Ghana, Liberia, Nigeria and Sierra Leone also fielded teams in the federation’s third biennial tournament since 2007.

The sport is demanding: Outfielders on crutches, who chase the soccer ball around the field, must have lost a leg; goalies must be missing an arm. No artificial limbs are allowed.

The competitors played with surprising agility on the smooth, green turf of Ghana’s Ohene Djan Sports Stadium.

However, the tournament is about more than playing soccer, according to federation President Francis Adjetey Sowah.

“They have showed they are connoisseurs of the game and that they actually have what it takes to do what the abled can do and that they can challenge perceptions about people with disabilities,” he said. “Disability does not mean inability.”

Amputee soccer teams in Africa began in Sierra Leone in 2003. The small former British colony descended into a bloody 10-year civil war in the 1990s marked by the gruesome practice of rebels hacking off the limbs of civilians who did not support them.

Liberia suffered civil wars for more than 20 years, beginning in the 1980s.

“If you look at Sierra Leone and Liberia, two countries that have gone through the trauma of war, once you give them a friendly game like this, it allows them to forget the trauma they have suffered,” Mr. Sowah said.

Not all of the amputees in the competition lost their limbs as a result of civil conflict. Some were born with illnesses, and others were crippled in accidents.

Harouna Ousmane, 44, secretary-general of the National Paralympic Committee of Niger and the founder of Niger’s amputee football team, said he decided to start a team when he noticed amputees playing soccer around the country’s capital, Niamey.

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