In Mexico, football isn’t just a sport. It’s also a much needed distraction for many who face hardships.
CGTN’s Al Baverstock reports on one group in particular, finding an escape on the field.
At age fifteen, Abel Mora lost his leg to cancer.
A resident of Ecatepec, one of Mexico City’s most impoverished districts, life has not been easy for the amputee.
“It was extremely hard. No one in my family knew how to handle the situation,” he explained. “And Mexico City is not a place that is well equipped for people like me.”
But two years ago he discovered The Panthers, a soccer team for amputees like him. He now captains the team in Mexico’s amputee national soccer league.
“I know a lot of people in my situation, how they get depressed and simply remain at home,” he said as he took a break from his Saturday morning training session. “That was never an option for me. I’m an accountant and I run my own business, but I have always loved football. And it has been important to be able to share the experience with others like me.”
Amputees are not uncommon in Mexico. Every year, an estimated 1,5000 men lose limbs from medical complications or work-related accidents.
Life can be hard for the disabled in Mexico City. The capital is not well equipped to deal with their needs, and many often feel rejected by society as they struggle to find work.
Before James Rodriguez, there were Colombian greats like Rene Higuita, an eccentric Colombian goalkeeper who blocked a goal with his now famous “scorpion kick.”
German Gonzalez established the Panthers football side two years ago.
“Many end up feeling that they are worthless, that they are a burden,” he said. “So getting them out here to train, to run around, to show them that they can still do things. They can still score goals, they can still dream, and many more things.”
Mexico is preparing for its sixth consecutive appearance in the 2018 World Cup finals in Russia, although its position within this tournament’s “Group of Death” – in which they will have to face Germany, Sweden and South Korea – has left few thinking they will progress far in the tournament.
The team narrowly slipped past Scotland in an international friendly on Sunday night, beating their opponents 1-0 with a first half goal, despite dominating the possession throughout the game.
“It’s not the best team right now,” one supporter at the Azteca Stadium in Mexico City said. “Mexico won’t do well, but we’ll be there to cheer them on no matter what.”
However Mexico’s national team fares in the tournament, football will remain the bonding factor that has brought this amputee team together.