On October 22, the Afghan wheelchair basketball team engaged in a thrilling exhibition match at Zhejiang Sci-Tech University (ZSTU) with Chen Zi’an, a professional basketball player from the Chinese Basketball Association (CBA), and the ZSTU basketball varsity.
The event, co-organized by the ICRC, the Chinese Red Cross Foundation (CRCF), the Yao Foundation, ZSTU, and Elite Sport, aimed to enhance participation in sports for people with disabilities and bolster societal recognition of their contributions. The event underscores sports as a means to facilitate the reintegration of disabled people into society.
The Afghan team comprises members disabled by conflict-related factors like landmines and conditions such as polio and spinal cord injuries. All of them have received treatment at ICRC-supported rehabilitation centers.
Shukrullah Zeerak, a physiotherapist supervisor at the ICRC’s Kabul Physical Rehabilitation Center and the manager of the Afghan wheelchair basketball team, is living proof of the transformative power of the sport. Despite his own disability caused by a landmine, he attests that basketball has become an integral part of their lives.
“Basketball transcends mere competition; it fosters self-esteem and self-confidence among the players, giving them a sense of independence both within the confines of their homes and in the broader world. Moreover, sports empower them to surmount their physical limitations, offering them a chance to venture beyond Afghanistan. ” he said, adding that none of these would be possible without the technical and financial support from the ICRC.
During the event, the two teams engaged in skill demonstrations, including one-on-one passes while in movement, inbound passes from a seated position and collaborative dunks. The Chinese players also sat on wheelchairs, engaging closely with the Afghan players and confronting the unexpected difficulties and challenges inherent in wheelchair basketball training and competition.
“It’s a truly novel experience. For players who have limited exposure to wheelchair basketball, the biggest challenge is balance. I found it quite demanding,” noted CBA player Chen Zi’an “I must say, Afghan players are exceptional at actions like dribbling and shooting, as if there were no obstacles in their path.”
Boris KELEČEVIĆ, deputy head of the ICRC Regional Delegation for East Asia, thanked the partners for their support. “The Afghan wheelchair basketball players have persevered through the pain and grief of prolonged armed conflicts and the socio-economic impact these conflicts have had on their lives. They’ve won my utmost admiration for their resilience and sports spirit. “
The event is more than just a basketball game; it is a true demonstration of diversity and inclusion in the world of sports. This interactive event once again highlights the irreplaceable value of the sports spirit in motivating each individual to face challenges and become a better self.
Wu Dan, Deputy Director of the Overseas Programs of the CRCF, underscored the potential of such an event in fostering “people-to-people exchange” with countries along the Belt and Road initiative (BRI).
“The Foundation has been actively engaged in supporting the BRI. In 2017, we established the Silk Road Fraternity Fund, which has already provided nearly 70 million RMB in humanitarian assistance to 26 countries and regions along the Belt and Road.” she explained, “Looking forward, we will continue our efforts to carry out more “small but beautiful” projects that benefit people’s livelihoods so that people-to-people exchanges can be more effective and deeper. We look forward to more cooperation with the ICRC in the future.”
Wheelchair basketball, as a unique form of the sport, originated in 1946 and features a heightened level of competitiveness. It made its debut at the inaugural Paralympics in Rome and has since become a staple in the Paralympic program.
Yao Jun, Deputy Secretary of the Party Committee of ZSTU, emphasized the significance of this exhibition match in showcasing the charms of wheelchair basketball while highlighting the rich culture of sports and basketball in China and Afghanistan. As promoters of the BRI, China and Afghanistan have forged a profound friendship and a history of robust cooperation. The match provides an additional platform for dialogue and exchange, where we can relish the joys and passions of basketball together while engaging in skill-sharing and fostering bonds to strengthen friendships and promote sports, cultural exchange, and mutual understanding.
Christine Ren, Executive Director of Elite Sport, applauded the importance of breaking boundaries and having wheelchair basketball teams compete with conventional basketball teams.”It sends a resounding message that, regardless of our circumstances, we must muster the courage and confidence to confront adversity. In the face of unknown challenges, we should approach them positively and continue pursuing our dreams unwaveringly.” She said.
Founded in 2013, the Afghan national wheelchair basketball team participated in the International Wheelchair Basketball Federation (IWBF) Asia-Oceania Championship in Beijing in December 2017. This year’s Asian Para Games in Hangzhou is set to be another chance to showcase their sporting prowess and talent.
In Afghanistan, over one million people suffer from some form of physical disability. Four decades of war and its aftermath have left the country with one of the highest rates of disability in the world.
ICRC launched its physical rehabilitation program in Afghanistan in 1988. Today, the ICRC supports seven physical rehabilitation centers: in Kabul, Mazar-i-Sharif, Herat, Jalalabad, Gulbarhar, Faizabad and Lashka Gah. In the first half of 2023, the seven centers have helped over 100,000 patients.
In addition to providing physical rehabilitation services, the ICRC is committed to promoting social inclusion and participation for disabled people. We provide education and vocational training opportunities for people with disabilities and enhance their physical fitness through sports like wheelchair basketball, helping them regain confidence and promoting the social inclusion and participation of people with disabilities.
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