The full fever of soccer/football has struck America this week. Today I heard a woman behind me exclaim, "Isn't it great that this World Cup thing's got everybody so patriotic and stuff?" I think what she meant was that she enjoyed the bond in community that soccer provides. I'll confess I'm not that into competitive sports myself, but what I do like about them is how they build confidence in their players. For example, my wife is a roller derby coach for girls between the ages of seven and seventeen. One of her favorite parts of this role is seeing her skaters become more sure of themselves along the way.
Observers have found that the camaraderie of sports builds a morale that helps bring communities together. Warren St. John documented this well in his book "Outcasts United," about disparate refugees in America coming together on their local soccer field. In Sierra Leone, victims of civil war previously considered their amputations as divine retribution. But when sixty men formed the Single Leg Amputee Sports Club (SLASC) they became ambassadors for peace in their nation. Cambodia too has thousands of amputees, mostly former soldiers. When these victims started playing on a national disabled volleyball league, public attitude toward them shifted so they were more likely to retain employment.
A 2011 study by Maria Berghs found that amputees in war-wounded nations often felt they could not reintegrate into society. It was only after social recognition (such as that gained through organized sports) that these people began to feel like part of their community again. The trauma of amputation was mitigated through public actions using their bodies, such as playing sports. Bergh found that through these rituals, such victims found social recognition again.
So, while the World Cup is prominent and viewers are excited, I'd encourage you to keep an eye out for the World Amputee Football Championship. It's scheduled to be played from November 30 to December 8, in the City of Culiacan, Sinaloa, Mexico. As a tournament, it aims to display its players as peace ambassadors, while giving them the opportunity to share their experiences with other amputee players from around the world.
- Berghs, M. "Embodiment and Emotion in Sierra Leone." Third World Quarterly. Volume 32, Issue 8. 2011.
- DiBenedetto, C. "Single Leg Soccer." Stanford Social Innovation Review. Volume 5. Issue 3. Page 80. 2007.
- Wolff, Alexander. "Sports Saves the World." Sports Illustrated. Volume 115. Issue 12. 9/26/2011