Liberia Amputee Soccer Team Struggling in US

15 September, 2015

The Liberia amputee soccer team is one of the top teams in the sport. They have won the African nation tournament for amputees three times.

They are so good that the American Amputee Soccer Federation asked the Liberian team to play an international friendly soccer match. The event was scheduled for early August in Maryland. But then it was canceled.

The team came to the U.S. anyway. And after a month, the players are stranded – either unable or unwilling to return home.

Liberian amputees in front of their home in Washington, D.C.
Liberian amputees in front of their home in Washington, D.C.

Now it appears the 15 players are having a difficult time with basic, daily needs. Some of the players lost arms or legs because of violence in their country.

Amputees claim difficult conditions for the disabled in Liberia

Cooper Melvin Goteh is president of the Liberia Amputee Soccer Association. He says the team knew before leaving for the United States that the international competition was cancelled.

But, he says, the players wanted to come to the U.S. to talk about the deplorable conditions in Liberia. Amputees lack decent housing, education, and food in Liberia. The team decided to make the U.S. trip to appeal for assistance.

"We knew that actually on the 23rd of June the tournament was canceled, but we had other appointments. So that's why we use the opportunity to come to America, and we came."

Some Liberians say the team was looking for a way out of Liberia. But Mr. Goteh denies that the players planned to stay in the United States. He says the team would like to return home.

But, he says the Liberian government plans to take legal action against them. The government reportedly is seeking to recover money spent on the trip.

Liberia rejects description of ‘harsh' conditions for amputee athletes

Eugene Nagbe is Liberia's Minister of Youth and Sports. He told VOA there has been a lot of goodwill towards the amputees in Liberia. He denies claims by Mr. Goteh that the government plans to prosecute the team for making the trip.

"Prosecution for what," asked Mr. Nagbe? "He (Mr. Goteh) has committed no crime here or in America. They got their visas to travel, they entered America legally. Our worry is that they don't overstay their visas and then their stay in America would be illegal. So we are encouraging them to come back home," he said.

Liberian diaspora response

A number of Liberian-Americans have been helping the soccer team. One of them is Saymendy Lloyd and the Women's Wing Organization, a group in Washington, DC.

She and her group have found temporary housing for 11 of the players. They found a six-bedroom house, and set up a cable television connection so that the players could watch their favorite sport -- soccer. She asked DC area hotels to donate mattresses for beds. She also asked local restaurants to donate their unsold food.

Pocket change

Over the weekend the players asked Mrs. Lloyd for "pocket change" money. They also wanted at least $50 for each of them to send to their families back in Liberia. The players said they have jobs, and that their families need the money.

Mrs. Lloyd told VOA she is worried about feeding the amputees, or how to pay for the gas, water, electricity and cable TV. In addition, she owes $2,700 for use of the house.

Liberian embassy response

A Liberian Embassy official described the situation as a "nightmare." He said a hotel in Baltimore had evicted the amputees.

The official said the Liberian government agreed to provide about $300 per person for the embassy to rewrite the amputees' tickets to enable them to return to Liberia.

I'm Bob Doughty.

VOA's James Butty reported on this story. George Grow adapted this story for Learning English. Kathleen Struck was the editor.


Words in This Story

soccer – n. the American term for European football

amputee(s) – n. someone who lost an arm or leg

stranded – v. left without a way to leave some place

match – n. a soccer or football game

basic – adj. relating to the most important part of something

decent – adj. moral or honest; showing kindness

opportunity – n. a chance to do something

committed – adj. feeling loyalty to a cause or activity

encouraging – adj. supportive; promising

nightmare – n. an unpleasant dream