Iraq's deaf football team braves violence

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Iraq's deaf football team braves violence

Post by tree68 on February 15th 2008, 12:35 am

something i got today in my mail. .. "http://www.stuff.co.nz/4401518a12.html"http://www.stuff.co.nz/4401518a12.ht
ml
Iraq's deaf football team braves violence to play . . .
Reuters | Friday, 15 February 2008
Anyone born deaf and mute faces a challenge playing in a football team -
it's hard to communicate on the pitch, players cannot hear the referee's
whistle and few coaches know sign language.

Add the risk of being shot or blown up on the way to training in Baghdad and
Iraq's football team for deaf-mute players could be forgiven for staying
home.

But the squad is set to compete in an international tournament in Kuwait in
April, and trainer Hussein al-Shafi says he is determined the team will do
their best.

A former local league footballer, Shafi uses sign language he learned from
his brother, the chairman of a sports association for handicapped Iraqis, to
train a squad of 15 players. He also trains a 12-strong deaf children's
side.

"It's tough, but I feel spiritually bound to my players. It's my duty to
make sure they succeed," Shafi told Reuters, as young men behind him bounced
balls off their feet, gesturing to each other with hand signals when they
passed the ball.

Violence has dropped in Iraq, but bomb blasts and gunfire still echo across
Baghdad. That has made life hard for the players and sometimes interrupted
practice.

"It's difficult to attend training sessions when there are gunfights and
blasts everywhere. I'm afraid to come out," said Mohammed Jawad Yusif, 20,
talking in sign language through his coach. "Sometimes there's no transport
because of roadblocks."

Yusif said one of his friends, also deaf, was killed when gunmen opened fire
on a car he was travelling in.

"It sapped my strength to play for a while," he said.

Shafi recalled when a gunfight between rival militias once broke out near
the training ground. The players couldn't hear the gunfire, so he signalled
for them to hit the ground.

"They didn't understand at first. I panicked, but eventually they went down.
When the shooting stopped and they got up, they still thought it was a new
training drill," he said.

Iraqis love their football.

The country was the surprise winner of last year's Asian Cup competition.

The victory brought rare joy and unity to the shattered nation, with
Shi'ites, Sunni Arabs and Kurds pouring into the streets to celebrate their
team's unlikely 1-0 win over Saudi Arabia in the final in Jakarta in July.

With the national team as their inspiration, the deaf-mute squad qualified
for the regional championships of the Asia Pacific Deaf Games in Kuwait.

Shafi founded the team in 2003, shortly after U.S.-led forces toppled Saddam
Hussein.

At a sports club one evening, he met a group of young deaf men who were
bowling, swimming and bodybuilding. He suggested they play soccer.

In training, he works with two other coaches who do not know sign language,
but who do the physical training. Shafi teaches the various moves, tactics
and strategy.

"Physical training is crucial, but it's not enough. You need someone who can
communicate ideas with the kids, especially something technical," he said.
"It's still difficult - with sign language you never get the whole idea
across."

Despite the challenges - the referee has to wave a flag instead of blowing a
whistle and each team's trainer sits on the sidelines translating his
decisions in sign language - Shafi says the games are as good as any other.

The players say sometimes only half the squad turns up to training when
security is bad. Those who do often travel in fear of being kidnapped or
killed on Iraq's still dangerous roads.

But with attacks across Iraq down 60 per cent since last June, thanks to an
additional 30,000 US troops, Sunni neighbourhood patrols and a ceasefire by
a feared Shi'ite militia, the team now manages more training sessions.

"The violence has created a lot of problems for us," said Adel Khalef
Mahmoud, 20, also using sign language.

"But we manage."

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tree68

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