The Nigerian National Amputee Football Team, otherwise known as Special Eagles, has qualified for the World Cup in Turkey, following their performance at the Amputee Football Cup of Nations (CANAF 2021) tournament, which just ended in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania.
CANAF 2021 kicked off on November 27, 2021. The Special Eagles, who won silver medals at the last African championship, faced Egypt and Ghana at the group stage of the tournament in Dar es Salaam.
Although the team failed to lift the trophy in Tanzania, the impressive performance was enough to see them through to the World Cup, and the team seeks support from both the government and private sector to ensure a successful outing in Turkey.
The Special Eagles spent time training rigorously at the National Stadium, in Surulere, ahead of the Amputee Football Cup of Nations (CANAF 2021) tournament in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania. Shockingly, awareness of the competition and supports from both fans and the Nigerian government has been low.
Some few supporters who gather to watch the training sessions of the Special Eagles usually discuss, in loud enough whispers, plights of some of the players, some of whom work as commercial bus conductors in Lagos during the day, or as homeless Nigerians who sleep at some public places at night.
While some of the players have chosen to drop out of the team, others, for the love of the round leather ball, and for patriotism, have remained faithful to the game.
‘’The players are not given any allowance; we are not satisfied with the feeding and accommodation condition. The players are not being paid; they come from their homes, on their own.
They play with their own crutches, boots, football-training kits— none of which is forthcoming from the Federation. Though from information reaching us, the federation is cash trapped; funding is their problem,’’ Victor Mwemwe, Head Coach of the team, disclosed.
Captain of the Special Eagles, Sharafadeen Olalekan Oyeleke, who has been in the team for 18 straight years, believes that some Nigerian celebrities such as Davido, Burna Boy, and either former or present Super Eagles footballers, could be used as voices and faces to promote the amputee football in Nigeria hence, called for a national awareness on amputee football.
‘’We play the same football. It’s the round leather ball we are playing; we are not playing a square leather ball. The difference here is that we are using our clutches to gain balance and support, while they (able footballers) use their two legs to move.
What they do with normal football is what we also do, and we also play for the national team. So, we need them to come around to see how they can help us with their influence to promote this game in Nigeria and to change the face of amputee football where we could have it as a league in Nigeria and in all the whole 36 states.”
He continued: “We could have it as a festival; we could have it even in the All African Games. And if implemented, these suggestions will change the thinking of the physically challenged people, who can be made to see what they can lay back on, as well as what can fetch them money.”
Meanwhile, one of the Special Eagles players who spoke under anonymity revealed that “the highest payment each player has ever received for playing for Nigeria is a paltry sum of N40,000 (approximately $98). In spite of all these unnecessary challenges, the players are filled with high hopes and have a goal of bringing home the trophy.”