Maimana wins Wheelchair Basketball Championship

IAM's wheelchair basketball team from Maimana, in rural Faryab province, won first place in the first Afghan National Wheelchair Basketball tournament on June 15, 2012.

The first National Wheelchair Basketball Tournament in Afghanistan took place on 12-16 June, 2012 at the ICRC Orthopaedic Centre in Kabul. This historic event gathered wheelchair basketball players from all over the country, trained by American wheelchair basketball player Jess Markt. 
 
A former IAM team member, Victor Thiessen, initiated wheelchair basketball in Maimana back in 2006. At that time there was one other team in the country, started by ICRC in Mazar-e Sharif. The sport received a major breakthrough in Afghanistan in 2009 when the team in Maimana invited wheelchair basketball player Jess Markt from the US to come as a coach. Jess has since been in Afghanistan three times, most recently partnering with ICRC and training over 100 wheelchair basketball players around the country, both men and women.

The team in Maimana has grown from six players to fourteen. They train three times a week at a basketball court built by IAM just outside of the Orthopaedic Workshop and Physiotherapy Clinic (OWPC), which is run by IAM in Maimana. IAM also supports the team financially with a transportation stipend and refreshments during practises. In the weeks coming up to the National Tournament in Kabul, the team practised every night.

The Maimana team sent five players to Kabul to compete in the national championship, most of whom are in their early twenties. The hard work of the Maimana team paid off in Kabul. The team displayed skill, speed and spirit, competing against seven other teams from Kabul, Mazar-e Sharif and Herat. Shapor, Maimana's 19-year old captain, was awarded Most Valuable Player of the tournament.

Shapor suffered severe burns at the age of four which led to his disability. Most of the other Maimana players were crippled by polio or mine explosions. With the help of crutches the five men can walk slowly and carefully.  However, when they are in their wheelchairs, flying from one end of the court to the other, they are athletes in every sense of the word. The bright smiles on the players' faces were a visible testimony of the impact of the sport on these men. As they returned to their home town of Maimana as champions, they were welcomed by an eager crowd of fans who celebrated their victory. As the captain of Mazar's team, which came in second place at the tournament, said “being disabled does not meant that you have to sit in a dark room all day doing nothing. Disabled people can do anything!”

To read more about Jess Markt's efforts for wheelchair basketball in Afghanistan go to jessmarkt.wordpress.com/

To support IAM's work with disabled people in Maimana click here. Please specify that your donation is for OWPC/CBR.