02-06-2014 | Asia & Pacific

Afghan wheelchair basketball players in the match of their lives

ENG

Afghanistan’s wheelchair basketball team have only been playing together for four years and became a national team just a year ago, but there are no limits to the players’ ambition and dedication to their sport.

Their journey to Italy to play internationally for the first time has not been easy. All the players are patients or former patients of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) physical rehabilitation centre in Afghanistan.  Some suffered landmine injuries as children, others are survivors of polio.  For all of them, the chance to take on Italy’s national wheelchair basketball champions, Briantea 84, is a dream come true, and a chance to show off their achievements.

“I’m very happy that I have come here, to represent Afghan people and disabled (people)”, says Ahmad Fahim. “If they try, they can do everything.  Nothing is impossible for them.”


Health and self-confidence

Ahmad, and his team member Mirwais Rahimi, both suffered permanent spinal cord injuries as boys after being hit by shrapnel. Getting involved in basketball has, they agree, changed their lives for the better.

“Sport and wheelchair basketball changed a lot of things in my life. I feel very happy that I can play,” says Mirwais Rahimi “This is very good for your health, for your mind…you don’t really have depression.”

Alberto Cairo, who is head of the ICRC’s rehabilitation unit in Afghanistan, can testify to the transformative power of sport for his patients, “They gain in self-confidence, self esteem.  They become physically stronger, and they feel more handsome…someone told me ‘now I feel an athlete, not anymore just a person, just disabled.”


Big challenge

They were formed under the auspices of the Afghanistan’s Paralympic Committee.  They are delighted to get some match practice outside of Afghanistan; they need it if they are to qualify for the Paralympics in 2016 or 2020.  Facing Italy’s champions is, they all know, a tough challenge, but one they are keen to take on. “I’m not nervous,” says Ahmad, “just excited.”

“We know they are a strong team,” adds Mirwais, “but we will do our best."

The match gets off to a difficult start for the Afghans, with the Italians scoring half a dozen points in the first few minutes. But then Afghanistan strikes back, narrowing Italy’s lead to just a few points. When the final whistle blows, Italy has 64 points, and Afghanistan 32.  A loss, but still a very respectable score after a very exciting match.  Alberto Cairo’s pride in his team is contagious, “They came like ambassadors of their country,” he says “To show that Afghanistan is not only war and fighting and suicide attacks, but that it is something more than that, normal people, athletes who want to compete.”

And for Mirwais, the experience in Italy is anything but a defeat, “We are happy that we are going (home) with a lot of experience, a lot of new techniques, so for us it’s a victory.”
  

Facts and Figures:

The ICRC runs seven prosthetic/orthotic centres in Afghanistan which provide rehabilitation services for amputees and other people with disabilities. The centres help disabled people regain their place in society by providing them with vocational training, micro-credit loans and home education for children. A home-care service offers medical, economic and social support to paraplegics who are bedridden.

Between January and March 2014 the seven ICRC centres:

  • Registered 2,087 new patients, including 281 amputees, and assisted more than 23,380 patients in all
  • Made 4,045 prostheses and orthoses;
  • Provided 62,960 physiotherapy treatments;
  • Granted micro-credit loans to 150 patients to start their own small business ventures;
  • Facilitated the ongoing vocational training of 157 patients, 41 of whom completed their training;
  • Made 1,775 home visits to assist bedridden patients with spinal cord injuries, and to train their families to help them.



Shotlist

Location: Cantu, northern Italy
Length: 5:23
Format: HD & SD H264
Production: Imagen Foulkes
Camera: Luca Orefice
Sound: English 
ICRC ref: AV185N Afghan Basketball
Date: 29.05.2014


0:00 Players getting off bus
0:07 Player in wheelchair
0:14 Player being helped off bus and into wheelchair

SOUNDBITE Ahmad Farhim, Afghan team member (in English):
0:29 I’m very happy, I’m very happy that I have come here for, to present Afghanistan people and disabled, that uh, Afghanistan disabled can do, and if they try they can do everything, nothing is impossible for them.

SOUNDBITE Mirwais Rahimi, Afghan team member (in English):
0:48 Sport and wheelchair basketball changed a lot of things in my life. I feel very happy that I can play, I can, also I encourage a lot of other disabled people to come, this is very good for your health, for your mind, you will not be disappointed, not be depressed, you don’t really have depression, these things will be going off, so, it changed a lot of things in my life.

1:14 Ahmad in changing room
1:21 Group of players in changing room
1:36 Players in wheelchairs going down tunnel to arena
1:45Players coming into arena

SOUNDBITE Alberto Cairo, head of ICRC rehabilitation unit (in English)
2:05 I have seen really people transformed by sport, they gain in self-confidence, self esteem, they become physically stronger, and they feel themselves more handsome, more attractive, it is true, someone told me ‘now I feel an athlete, not anymore just a person, just a disabled, so it’s really a big change.

2:26 team shaking hands with Italian team

SOUNDBITE Mirwais Rahimi, Afghan team member (in English):
2:43 We know they are strong team but we will do our best, we will make a challenge for them.

SOUNDBITE Ahmad Fahim, Afghan team member (in English):
2:50 I’m not nervous, just excited.

2:54 Match play, wheelchairs crash together
3:10 Close up ball in hoop
3:16 Scoreboard
3:21 Wideshot match play
3:27 Close up Alberto Cairo watching
3:32 Scoreboard, pull focus

SOUNDBITE Alberto Cairo, head of ICRC rehabilitation unit (in English)
3:37 They came like ambassadors of their country, you know to show that Afghanistan is not only war and fighting and explosion and suicide attacks but it’s something more than that, it’s normal people, athletes, able to compete and willing to compete so the motivation to prove that they are really normal people is there.

3:58 Matchplay, camera follows Afghan players
4:15 Close up wheels
4:23 Coach and team on bench
4:32 Reserve team members cheering players on
4:43 Crowds watching and banner
4:48 Midshot matchplay, Afghanistan scores
5:00 Final scoreboard, pull focus
5:06 Mirwais watching

SOUNDBITE Mirwais Rahimi, Afghan team member (in English):
5:07 So we are happy that we are going with a lot of experience, a lot of new technique, so for us it’s a victory, a victory.

5:15 Players on court in semicircle, arms on shoulders.
5:23 END

Duration : 5m 23s
Size : 203.5 MB
On Screen Credit: ICRC or logo

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