Nigeria’s national team, Star Eagles, relish experience in Morocco
Nigeria’s national blind football team, Star Eagles, believe they have gained more experience and exposure from their recent international outings and would soon dominate the special sport in Africa.
Star Eagles were among the five teams that competed in the just concluded 2022 IBSA Blind Football African Championships held from September 14 to 26 in Bouznika, Morocco.
Other teams in the competition were Mali’s national blind team, an Egyptian side, Cote d’Ivoire’s national blind team and the host country, Morocco.
Defending champions, Morocco, retained their title in the championship they first won in Nigeria in 2019 by defeating Nigeria, Cameroun, Mali, Niger, Côte d’Ivoire, Egypt and Libya.
Blind football, which is a relatively new sport in Nigeria, has rules similar to regular football, but with some modifications. It consists of a five-man squad with four blind players and one sighted goalkeeper.
The Star Eagles are trained in the Football Academy at the Resource and Recreational Centre for the Blind at the Bina Foundation for People with Special Needs, a non-profit organisation that works for improved personal development, economic empowerment, social inclusion and human rights of people with special needs in Nigeria.
The Star Eagles were represented at the competition by a team of players, goalkeepers, guide, team manager, coaches, technical assistants, a physiotherapist, and doctors. Team players include Oba Azubuike (captain), Innocent Charles Enag, Ekene John, Okpalanze Izuchukwu, Ndubuisi Victor, Kwaghtsule Abraham, Biega Jeremiah, Chukwuebuka Ugwuoke (goalkeeper) and Chukwuebuka Uzoewulu (guide/coach).
Special delegates from Bina Foundation to Morocco, who volunteered in different capacities include the founder and president of Bina Foundation, Lady Ifeoma Atuegwu; the immediate past president of the Nigeria Para Athletic Federation and the new president of the Nigerian Para Swimming Federation, also the Director of Para Sports at Bina Foundation, Dr. Amobi Chikwendu; and Adaeze Atuegwu, who is the director of International Affairs at Bina Foundation, as well as a prolific writer, whose works of fiction have been transcribed into audio and Braille by the foundation for the visually-impaired.
Nigeria also produced the first and only African women IBSA referee, Agatha Obeta, a former goalkeeper and coach of the Star Falcons, the Nigerian women’s blind football team, nurtured by the Bina Foundation.
Obeta made her international debut in the world of blind football in February 2019 when the Star Falcons, co-sponsored by Bina Foundation, participated in the 2019 Saitama City Female Blind Football Normalisation Cup in Tokyo, Japan.
At the end of nearly two weeks of team collaboration, visiting a blind resource centre in Senegal, camping with teams from other countries, experiencing Moroccan food and cultures, and meeting Moroccan and IBSA dignitaries, the great Star Eagles insisted that the sports had come to stay.
Team Captain, Oba Azubuike, described Blind football as an interesting game with the potential for blind people.
Another player, Innocent Charles Enag, said: “I feel so grateful to be a player in such a special sport.”