20/05/2015 - 07:20

Volleyball: Colombia mine victims take stand by sitting


Fabio Caviedes had never played volleyball before he stepped on a landmine in conflict-torn Colombia and lost his left leg.

Now the 32-year-old former soldier is a national champion in sitting volleyball, and dreams of playing at the Paralympics in Brazil next year.

Sitting volleyball is a fast-paced version of the sport in which participants slide across the floor on their bottoms, and hit the ball across a lower net than standard volleyball.

It has been a Paralympic sport since 1980.

But it is more than just a game in Colombia, where a five-decade guerrilla war has left more landmine victims than any country in the world outside Afghanistan — 11,000 killed or wounded in the past 25 years, 10 percent of whom are children.

Caviedes fell victim in 2009, when he stepped on an anti-personnel mine that had been placed in an abandoned schoolhouse in southern Colombia.

Like other landmine victims who have taken up sitting volleyball, he has found a kind of rebirth in the sport.

“After all that’s happened to me, this sport gives me the motivation to carry on,” he told AFP in Bello, a suburb of Medellin that hosted 100 Paralympic athletes last weekend for the third edition of the national sitting volleyball championships.

Caviedes is not bitter about what happened to him.

“We know the risks we face,” he said.

He and his fellow players, many of them former soldiers, won audience members’ hearts in Bello, where 2,500 people turned out to watch the championships.

Caviedes, who plays for the Armed Forces A team, is hoping to make the Colombian national team and play in the 2016 Paralympics in Rio de Janeiro.

“I’m the best of the group at the national level, so I have faith in God that I’ll be selected,” he said.


– Recovering through sport –

Sitting volleyball emerged in 1956 in the Netherlands, inspired by sitzball, a German sport for people with limited mobility.

The net is set at 1.15 meters (3.77 feet) high for men’s play and 1.05 meters for women’s.

Colombia began holding national championships in 2008 and now has several teams of former soldiers and police, for whom it is a vital part of their recovery.

“Bello wanted to hold a tournament that would support these athletes and the victims of the conflict in a spirit of inclusiveness,” said Helder Acevedo of the town’s sports office, which organized the event.

“This sport helps them overcome the emotional scar of being the victim of these explosive devices.”

That was evident on Sunday at the moment the Army team won the final, when the seated players leapt to their feet in celebration, hopping on one leg and exchanging high-fives, hugs and elated smiles.

More than 12,900 people have been victims of anti-personnel mines, improvised explosive devices and unexploded munitions in Colombia, according to the government’s Victims’ Unit, which was set up in 2011 to deal with the fallout.

Colombia’s complex conflict has drawn in leftist guerrilla groups, right-wing paramilitaries and drug traffickers since the FARC was launched in 1964.

Two years ago, President Juan Manuel Santos’s government launched peace talks with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), the main guerrilla group, to seek an end to the conflict.

As part of that process, the two sides announced on March 7 that they would work together to clear the country’s landmines.

They adopted a “roadmap” to that effect on May 8, which the government’s chief negotiator Humberto de la Calle called the “first and most important joint measure” toward ending the conflict.

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