Liberia's history has been mired in violence and bloodshed, dating back to when the country was first christened as such. When slaves in the United States were freed in the wake of the Civil War, some crossed the Atlantic to settle in Africa and declare the foundation of Liberia. They called themselves Americo-Liberians.
Two problems emerged, though. First, these particular people arriving in Africa had never seen Africa before. Slavery had gone on long enough to where everybody had been born on the American side of the Atlantic. Second, nobody told the actual locals that the people just off the boat were their new rulers.
And the Americo-Liberians ruled the only way they knew: total domination. The Americo-Liberians comprised 5% of the population of Liberia, yet were the only people with voting rights. They built residences that resembled Southern plantations. In 1878, they instituted one-party rule.
Eventually, slavery itself would take hold. The very thing Liberia was created to celebrate against. It continues to this day.
The native Liberians would not wait nearly as long as the Americo-Liberians had to start rebelling. Riots, uprisings and wars would be repeatedly waged until 1980, when the Americo-Liberians were dislodged.
This did not quell the violence even a little bit. By 1989, civil war had kicked off once again; two consecutive wars would take the country into 2003. Only since then has the country even begun to move away from its unending cycle of bloodshed, though the fundamental issue of slavery persists.
Part of the recovery process involves how to account for all those wounded by war, including those who have lost limbs.
This brings us to the Cup of African Nations for Amputee Football, the third edition, which Liberia is scheduled to participate in during October. They are the defending champions, having won on home soil in 2008. This year's tournament, back after a two-year hiatus, is slated for Ghana, who won the inaugural 2007 tournament in Sierra Leone by beating Liberia in the final. Aside from Liberia and Ghana, Angola, Niger, Nigeria and Sierra Leone have confirmed their intent to participate. The organizers expect to also see Algeria, DR Congo, Kenya, Mali and South Africa in the field.
How does amputee soccer work? If you have one leg, you play in the field. If you have one arm, you play goalkeeper. The ball cannot touch an outfield player's crutch (no prosthetic limbs allowed) or a goalkeeper's arm stump. The goal is shrunk by half. More detailed rules are here.
Soccer gives the players hope. Employment in Liberia, as in many, many other developing countries, is difficult-to-impossible to find for people with missing limbs. A soccer tournament set aside specifically for amputees gives them a purpose. It gives them recognition. It also gives them a measure of needed respect. Amputees in Liberia, prior to the 2008 victory, were shunned. An amputee was, in the eyes of non-disabled Liberians, a former soldier, and therefore to blame for the nation's many years of misery and for all the people that died. If they suffered, they were seen to have deserved it. Amputees could not so much as get a taxi. With the prominence of the amputee soccer team, though, Liberia's amputees have slowly begun to be treated as people deserving of compassion as opposed to scorn.
How much prominence? In the Guardian article above, in January 2010, the amputee team was scrimmaging next to the club Invincible Eleven, a 13-time Liberian league champion and 15-time winner of the national cup competition. The amputees were drawing the larger crowd.
In addition to being inspiring, with the main Liberian league (in which Invincible Eleven currently lie 7th out of 20) trying to haphazardly sort out a 15-month league schedule this season, following the amputee team more closely may be the logical thing to do anyway.