RIO DE JANEIRO – Competitors from six teams and three countries are competing in the third edition of the Copa Libertadores Powerchair Football, a South American wheelchair soccer event that provides people with quadriplegia, cerebral palsy or muscular dystrophy an opportunity to shine.
A total of 80 players distributed among two teams each from Brazil, Argentina and Uruguay have gathered at the Arena Carioca 3, one of the sports venues at the 2016 Rio Olympics, for a tournament that lacks the glamour of its namesake but allows these participants to enjoy a measure of independence and the thrill of competition.
A far cry from the money, fame, large crowds and controversy that always surround the Copa Libertadores international club soccer competition, this motorized wheelchair event does not have a single sponsor, meaning the families of the players had to cover their own travel costs and lodging expenses in Rio de Janeiro.
Organized by Brazil’s wheelchair soccer association (ABFC), the games of the third Copa Libertadores Power Football, whose final is scheduled for Friday, feature four players on each team (a goalkeeper and three outfield players), two 20-minute halves and three referees.
A bigger-than-normal soccer ball is used to make it easier for the players to strike it with their wheelchairs, which are not permitted to move faster than 10 kilometers (six miles) per hour.
“The players are divided into two categories: profile one and profile two. Each team has two players from each profile on the field. Profile one has more limited mobility, and plays more slowly, while profile two (players) are faster and are more important to the team, although both are necessary,” ABFC President Marco Antonio dos Santos told EFE.
The president and coach of the Rio de Janeiro team Novo Ser, Bruno Rodrigues, said for his part that it was important that the players must move around with no assistance.
“At home there’s always someone taking care of them. On the field, they’re on their own,” he told EFE. “It’s important to teach both the independence and sporting aspects, preparing both an athlete and a person.”