Afghanistan: first national wheelchair basketball tournament
A wheelchair basketball tournament in Kabul recently brought together players from Mazar-i Sharif, Kabul, Herat and Maimana. The ICRC organized the event, in close collaboration with the Afghan Para-Olympic Committee.
This tournament is part of the ICRC’s long-running effort to promote the social reintegration of people with disabilities. The wheelchair basketball programme started in 2010, when US basketball player and trainer Jess Markt came to work with the players.
"Wheelchair basketball gives disabled people in Afghanistan an opportunity to realize their athletic talents," said Alberto Cairo, head of the ICRC's physical rehabilitation programme in Afghanistan.
"For these players, basketball has become a new way of life. It’s given them a feeling of purpose. It changes the way they see themselves and the way people see them. People watching these games forget they are watching disabled people and see only the amazing athletes in front of them."
Jess Markt has trained over 125 basketball players with ICRC support, including 25 women. "Travelling to Afghanistan to work with the players here has been one of the greatest experiences of my life," he enthuses. "It requires a lot of time and effort, but every minute teaching these athletes and witnessing their success is worth it to me. I’m so proud of all the players I've worked with and I look forward to helping ensure the further growth of wheelchair basketball in Afghanistan."
The players, many of whom run small businesses to support their families, have devoted a lot of their time to coming to ICRC rehabilitation centres for training.
"Basketball has become an important part of my life," said Fahim, one of the Kabul wheelchair basketball players. "I love to compete and I’m going to devote as much time as it takes to keep on improving and achieve my individual and team goals."
The ICRC has been involved in limb fitting, rehabilitation and the social reintegration of disabled people in Afghanistan since 1988, helping landmine victims, people with a motor impairment and others. Today, there are seven ICRC centres around the country, in Kabul, Mazar-i-Sharif, Herat, Gulbahar, Faizabad, Jalalabad and Lashkar Gah.
The ICRC also offers medical, economic and social support to people with spinal injuries and their families. Vocational training and micro-credit loans make it possible for patients to start small business ventures and there is education for disabled children. The centre managers are all former patients who have received professional training as physiotherapists or prosthetic/orthotic technicians.