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by Bob Jones
Since the 2003 Play4Hope tour of England by a Sierra Leonean amputee soccer squad, the Single Leg Amputee Sports Club (SLASC) that formed the national team has grown considerably in numbers and proficiency.
On their return to Sierra Leone they received a good deal of positive publicity. Other young amputees came forward and to-day there are three full teams and reserve players regularly taking part in the sport.
SLASC was formerly affiliated to and supported by the UK charity Action For Children in Conflict (AFCiC). But since that chairty has withdrawn its support for lack of funding, the soccer team relies totally on private donations for support, and even for transportation to practice.
Training takes place every week near the beach where a cool afternoon sea breeze tempers the heat and makes playing enjoyable. On Saturday a full 60 minute competitive match is played between the two Freetown teams, East and West.
The players turn out in their smart team kit and a highly competitive game ensues. This is held in a small stadium and many spectators gather as well as player's friends. One problem that these regular matches produce is broken crutches.
During a match in January, two crutches got broken one beyond repair and the other was fixed only by taking it to a back yard car mechanic.
This is typical of what is happening as the crutches get older.
Many of the players are finding life tough in post war Sierra Leone and not many have regular employment or support. A few are still living in the amputee camp on the outskirts of Freetown, where amenities are very primitive.
Since the 2003 tour of the UK only about four players have been fitted with prosthetic limbs.
Amputee soccer has provided the members of SLASC with a valuable recreation and rehabilitation. Many are close friends and give much encouragement to each other.
Only funds restrict the numbers as other amputees seek to join SLASC. However, this organised soccer club needs transport and refreshments for every event as well as replacement kit and footballs and cash is always in short supply.
The ambitions of the club include further development of the teams and more international competition. SLASC have been invited to the Amputee Soccer World Championships and are frantically trying to get sponsorship.
Otherwise they are working towards two or more international teams visiting Sierra Leone early in 2006 for an international tournament. This would be a first for Africa.
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