“It has not been easy playing on one leg,” midfielder Uchechukwu Onwugbufor told Nigerian newspaper the National Mirror in 2013. Nigeria’s national amputee team, made up of one-legged players and one-armed goalies, is struggling: no training pitch, no government support, and no sponsorship. On the way to compete in Freetown, Sierra Leone, in 2007, their bus was attacked by Sierra Leonean rebels, but they survived to finish fourth at the first-ever All African Amputee Football Championship.
Across West Africa, polio survivors scoot seated on homemade skateboards and bat a football with flip-flop-covered hands to play “skate soccer.” Public matches are organized to reduce stigmas around physically handicapped people.
Disabled athletes of all sorts can play power wheelchair football, as long as their chairs have protruding foot-guards to nudge the 33-centimeter football around. “Powerchairs” cruise at a maximum speed of 10 kilometers an hour.
With forearm-supporting crutches, one-legged players can still nimbly accelerate toward a ball. Thanks to its many Afghan War veterans during the sport’s founding in the 1990s, reigning world champion Uzbekistan is considered the cradle of amputee football.
A paralyzed teen encased in a mind-controlled exoskeleton will deliver the ceremonial first kick for this year’s World Cup in Brazil. She’ll wear a non-invasive headpiece that detects brainwaves, and a helmet in case she falls.