BAGDADA, Irag, December 4 – Twice a week a small soccer field in Iraq gives the 25-member national team of little people a chance to make their dreams come true and fight prejudice.
Omar Abdel Rahman’s team have an ambitious goal: to travel to Argentina for their first international tournament.
Despite modest means, players come from all over the country to train, leaving behind their daily worries, their discrimination and their jibes.
“The team has changed the course of my life and the lives of other players,” said Abdel Rahman, who works in a cafe in Baghdad where he makes shisha.
“I am good at football, but we are treated with contempt and it is impossible to play in traditional teams,” said Abdel Rahman, who is 1.42 meters (four feet, eight inches) tall.
“But now everything is changing,” said the forward, wearing a number nine jersey, with green socks pulled up to his knees.
The team have just returned from a friendly match in Jordan. Next year, they plan to travel to Argentina to participate in the tournament for the little ones.
– ‘International dream’ –
In 2018, a “Dwarf Copa America” was held in Buenos Aires, the first of its kind.
The date for the 2022 edition has not yet been set, said Facundo Mariano Rojas, head of the Argentina-based International Children’s Football Federation.
This will mainly depend on the restrictions imposed for the coronavirus pandemic, he told AFP.
“We are also looking for financial resources to help participating countries.
The matches will be played by teams of seven members in indoor stadiums and on futsal pitches.
A key difference will be the size of the goals, set at 1.7 meters (about 5.6 feet) in height and two meters in width, compared to the normal 2.44 meters by 7.32 meters.
It was the Copa America that inspired Hussein Jalil to launch the Iraqi team in 2019.
Other players come from Arbil, Sulaymaniyah and Kirkuk in northern Iraq, Nassiriyah in the southeast, and the eastern city of Kut.
Salah Ahmed, a 37-year-old striker, is taking time off work as a bicycle repairer to attend.
“Before joining the team, I suffered from the attitude of society towards the little people,” said the father of one.
– ‘Our team exists’ –
Dwarfism is a medical or genetic condition that results in a height of less than four feet and 10 inches, according to Little People of America, a support organization.
People with the disease, who see themselves as small people, face several challenges when it comes to playing football.
“Some players experience harassment in public places and on the streets,” Jalil said. “But the situation is changing, football has given them more confidence.”
He pointed out other issues, such as finding football kits in the right sizes in stores, so they had to improvise.
There are also financial difficulties. When they travel, they have to borrow money to pay for their tickets.
“Upon our return, the Ministry of Youth and Sports reimburses up to $ 7,000 to cover our expenses,” added Jalil.
Abdel Rahman, a father of three, said the sport needed more support.
“In other countries a team like ours has the support of football stars like Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi,” he said.
“In Iraq, sports stars don’t even know our team exists.”