Thursday 10 August 2023, 00:00

‘Football is for everyone’ - Amputee footballers display sublime skills at Unity Pitch

When Marcin Oleksy won the 2022 FIFA Puskás Award he catapulted amputee football into world football’s conversation. For many supporters, the Polish player’s barely-believable acrobatic finish was a first glimpse of amputee football, but FIFA are eager to use its platforms to help raise the game’s profile. FIFA President Gianni Infantino attended men's and women's amputee matches during the 73rd FIFA Congress in Kigali and vowed that the world governing body would help amputee players find a greater place in the game. Under the World Amputee Football Federation (WAFF), amputee football is a codified game for amputees and or people with limb affecting deficiencies where players ambulate on crutches. More than 5000 players participate in over 50 countries across five continents.

Sydney/Gadigal’s Unity Pitch at Barangaroo on Sydney Harbour hosted some special visitors this week when visitors from WAFF and the US Amputee Football Federation were on hand to display some unique skills. It was just the latest example of the Unity Pitch - which has visited each of the nine Host Cities – showcasing a diverse range of participants. “Amputee soccer has given me a new outlook on my ability, not my disability,” said LaQuinta Haynes, who hails from Columbus, Ohio. “[Playing football] did offer me a lot of mental health too, because it gives me a way of looking at myself differently.”

This year’s event in the Rwandan capital during the FIFA Congress marked the official launch of the WAFF Women's Programme with the organisation seeking to put particular emphasis on promoting women's amputee football.

“A lot of people that have amputations or limb differences think that they can't follow their dreams or do what they want to because they have this difference, but I think that amputee soccer gives that hope,” said Amie Donathan, a talented young amputee footballer who plays for the American Amputee Soccer Association and was one of only two females to take the field at last year’s Amputee Football World Cup, held in Turkey. “I didn't know any amputee or anybody like me before I played amputee soccer. So, it has just given me that different family. We all have a connection that not everyone can have and we just understand each other in a different way. “The physical health benefits are definitely off the charts. You get a lot of lower body or upper body, you have to have a lot of stamina and the mental health benefits are also great because a lot of these people, including me, before we had amputee soccer, you just sometimes get down on yourself.”

FIFA’s strong support for accessibility in all its guises has been a key underlining theme during Australia & New Zealand 2023. “We wanted this World Cup to be the most inclusive and most accessible World Cup we've ever had,” said Sarai Bareman, FIFA’s Chief Women’s Football Officer, who participated in an amputee football training session with the group this week. “It's a totally different skillset, but it's the same game, the same sport, the same objectives, the same round ball. It just goes to show that football is for everyone.”

Whilst in Australia, FIFA provided the amputee football representatives with daily access to its Unity Pitch, tickets to two Round of 16 matches at the FIFA Women’s World Cup 2023 (Netherlands-South Africa and Australia-Denmark), and a tour of the FIFA Museum at the FIFA Fan Festival™ located at Tumbalong Park in Darling Harbour.