Dis­abled Myan­mar teen foot­ball champ de­fies the odds

Mizzima Business Weekly - - CONTENTS -

Foot­ball-ob­sessed Myan­mar teen Kaung Khant Lin roots for Manch­ester United, wor­ships star Lionel Messi and was hon­oured as the best player in a re­cent tour­na­ment.

But the 16-year-old ex­pertly nav­i­gates the pitch with just one leg and a crutch, the only dis­abled footballer on his team.

"When­ever I play foot­ball, I for­get about my legs and I play as a nor­mal per­son," he tells AFP af­ter cel­e­brat­ing his goal with team mates.

On sandy ground in the out­skirts of Yan­gon, he drib­bles a ball with in­cred­i­ble agility, piv­ot­ing ex­pertly on the crutch be­fore shoot­ing to score with his left foot.

Kaung Khant Lin was born with a stump for a right leg that to­day pro­trudes from his foot­ball shorts.

He re­mem­bers first kick­ing a ball around the streets when he was five, keep­ing his bal­ance on a wooden crutch crafted by his uncle.

Now he sees him­self as pretty ver­sa­tile on the pitch and doesn't even see his dis­abil­ity as his main weak­ness.

"No­body can get past me. But it's hard for me to de­fend against free kicks as I'm short."

Nearly one in 50 peo­ple in Myan­mar has some form of walk­ing dis­abil­ity, ac­cord­ing to the coun­try's lat­est cen­sus in 2014.

Un­like Kaung Khant Lin, many are sur­vivors of land­mines planted in the con­flicts plagu­ing the coun­try's restive bor­der­lands.

Peo­ple with dis­abil­i­ties face huge dis­crim­i­na­tion and 85 per­cent are un­em­ployed, says Thin Thin Htet, pro­gram man­ager at Shwe Minn Tha Foun­da­tion (Myan­mar), which cham­pi­ons the mi­nor­ity's rights.

"Most peo­ple think that those with dis­abil­i­ties can­not work," she says.

Messi-in­spired

Kaung Khant Lin has so far de­fied the odds, even ris­ing to lo­cal fame in a foot­ball tour­na­ment on In­de­pen­dence Day, a pub­lic hol­i­day in Jan­uary when com­mu­ni­ties com­pete in team games.

His two goals helped pro­pel his side to vic­tory and also clinched his award of "Player of the Tour­na­ment".

Team­mate Moe Sat Han, 14, ex­plains how they used to worry about their friend's leg get­ting broken but there was no way they could stop him play­ing.

They of­ten play the whole day from morning un­til night, even for­get­ting to eat, and that's when "his Dad gives him a huge telling off," Moe Sat Han con­fides.

Kaung Khant Lin's fa­ther, a 41-year-old painter and dec­o­ra­tor, ad­mits he can­not even bring him­self to watch his son play.

"I don't want to see him get in­jured in front of me," Soe Min Htun says, adding he just wants his son to go to uni­ver­sity to get an ed­u­ca­tion.

Kaung Khant Lin is work­ing hard at school in the hope of study­ing me­chan­i­cal en­gi­neer­ing -- even if he dreams of be­com­ing a foot­ball coach one day.

In the mean­time, how­ever, he will keep try­ing to em­u­late his hero, Ar­gen­tine and Barcelona legend Lionel Messi.

"He's left-handed and I am too," he says. "I prac­tise free kicks just like he does."

Young foot­ball star Kaung Khant Lin, right, in ac­tion. Photo: AFP

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