IRAQ: People with Disabilities in Iraq Reborn with Football
The ICRC has been actively supporting people with disabilities in Iraq since 1993, in alignment with its mandate to aid victims of wars and armed conflicts.
A part of the support that ICRC provides is the social inclusion programme in which it implements and supports a variety of initiatives aimed at helping people with physical disabilities to participate fully in society. Often this means removing physical barriers and changing attitudes so that people can realize and achieve their full potential in all aspects of society.
This includes adaptive sports programmes, increased access to education, career development support and microeconomic initiatives to build confidence, teamwork and leadership skills while creating greater community awareness and reducing long-held stigma.
"The aspect I missed the most following my amputation was playing football. Despite being able to walk and go to work, thanks to my prosthesis, the realization that football was no longer within my reach hurt" describes Mohammed Adnan, the founder of the Amputee Football Association in Iraq.
Mohammed lost his right leg in 2014 as a consequence of a war wound. Despite the challenges, he seamlessly resumed his life and was offered the opportunity to pursue a PhD in Law in Britain.
While studying in Portsmouth, England, he was pleasantly surprised to find their amputee football association – a community of individuals facing similar circumstances and playing the sport he loves. He joined the team where he participated in several matches including the English league.
Inspired by the idea, he resolved to establish a similar association in Iraq in 2021. When he reached out to people on social media, he was pleasantly surprised by the unexpected number of calls he received.
Mohammed's aspiration is to ensure respect towards people with disabilities and the provision of tailored services for their potential and creativity. He envisions equal opportunities in education and employment for people with disabilities "because they deserve to have that" he expresses.
KAREEM HASAN – RIGHT WINGER
"My life has fully returned to normal after joining the football team, and I take pride in my amputation now" states Kareem, a former soldier, one of IAFA's team members. He lost his right leg during military duty in 2014.
Kareem reflects on his life immediately following the injury, during which he barely left his house for nearly 6 years, until he joined the team. Initially, he harbored a sense of shame regarding his physical disability and refrained from using canes at all. "Now I can effortlessly run using canes" he mentions.
Joining the team provided Kareem with a sense of belonging, connecting with individuals who shared the same disability. It represented a supportive community for him – one that truly understands what he's going through.
Kareem encourages all newcomers and young members to keep going and extends an invitation to others with disabilities to join the team. "I had given up on life and started hating myself. However, upon becoming a part of this team, I no longer see myself as a person with a disability, nor do I feel different" he states.
ALAA ABOOD – GOALKEEPER
Alaa lost his left arm when he was a child due to a medical error, shaping his upbringing with his disability. Despite this, he has been playing football since his childhood as a goalkeeper. Upon joining the team, everyone assumed he had experience playing abroad due to his sharp skills.
Even though he never felt different, he was delighted to discover an association dedicated to people with disabilities.
He fondly recalls one of his greatest moments when he successfully defended against a penalty strike within the first ten minutes of their first match in the 2022 Amputee Football World Cup in Istanbul, Turkey.
Alaa reaches out to all people with disabilities saying "Don't assume that disability marks the end of your life, quite the opposite. Empower yourself to rise, explore the world, and challenge the mindset that suggests people with disabilities are any less capable than those without. Break free from the limitations."
The IAFA played a pivotal role in transforming the lives of individuals who once hesitated to venture out, turning them into confident members who now take pride in their physical disability and in sharing personal pictures on social media.
Despite the diverse circumstances that resulted in injuries among team members, the Iraq Amputee Football Association united individuals from across the country. They are bound together by shared challenges and a common passion – football.
"Despite being a relatively new association, the football team achieved a remarkable feat by reaching the 2022 Amputee Football World Cup and securing victories against three established teams of Germany, Uruguay, and Ireland. Competing against teams with 20-30 years of experience, the Iraqi team secured the nineteenth place. Mohammed, the founder, proudly states, "Our initial ambition was solely to participate, but not only did we participate, we also managed to secure victories against some teams. This, in itself, is a significant achievement for us."
As a part of its social inclusion programme, the ICRC has been supporting the IAFA and has funded the most recent tournament between the IAFA teams across the country in November 2023.