Sport has often been praised for the way it brings people together, and nowhere is this more poignant than in South Sudan, a country long ravaged by civil war. Ignoring the conflict, disparate groups of injured young men put their differences aside to play wheelchair basketball, a world away from the intense fighting.
The contrast with the urban battlefield is striking: young men laugh and smile as they race up and down the basketball in their wheelchairs, despite the injuries that have brought them all together. The wheelchair basketball tournament is the brainchild of Jess Markt, a coach from the US state of Colorado who has established similar programs in other war torn regions.
The disabled young men are all from a variety of different Sudanese ethnic groups, and are organised into four separate teams for the competition. All of the players were injured in the struggle for independence; a deacades long conflict that continues to the current day. The civil war has has killed thousands and injured countless others, with many living in poverty in camps outside of the city.
Enter Jess Markt, eager to make a difference. His wheelchair basketball training program is the first time that most of the men have been involved in sports, and he teaches them how to work as part of a team, and some of the men have travelled hundreds of kilometres just to take part. Markt himself has been playing wheelchair basketball since the age of 19, after a spinal cord injury left him paralysed.
The program in South Sudan has been a resounding success, as more and more young men seek to join the competition. Player-coach Peter Bol Wal summarised why many are embracing the sport. “This basketball has helped unite us as people with disabilities,” he said. “We love each other and we do not talk about our tribal differences.” The South Sudanese competition is a perfect example of the unifying power of team sports.