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Young disabled adults in Bahrain have been given a sporting chance to achieve World Cup glory thanks to visiting coaches from English Premiership giants Liverpool.

And blind and visually-impaired children were also shown how to enjoy the game with a series of training sessions set up by the professionals who boasted skills to assist people with special needs.

Liverpool FC Academy coaches Forbes Duff and Karl Carney were invited by Standard Chartered Bank (SCB), the club's official sponsors, to conduct football clinics across the kingdom.

They also visited football-mad youngsters at schools as well as sharing tips with Bahrain's National Women's Team.

The three-day visit was launched as part of the bank's 'Seeing is Believing' global initiative, a multi-million dollar programme that helps tackle avoidable blindness. It was launched in 2003 to mark the bank's 150th anniversary and has since touched the lives of more than 31 million people.

Haya Mashhood, a regional SCB head of corporate affairs, said: "The reason I think this is such a great initiative is because it hasn't been done before. The objective behind these football clinics is to give back to the Bahraini community and the communities in which the bank exists.

"We, the bank and Liverpool FC, share the same principles in community investment and making football accessible to people of all walks of life regardless of age, gender, social background and physical ability.

"Our sponsorship is more than just having our name and logo on their shirts, it's about the fact that we share the same values and believe in doing good for the community."

The project began when the bank celebrated its anniversary and its then chairman Mervyn Davies asked his employees if there were any community initiatives worth pursuing. A member of staff suggested 'Seeing is Believing' and explained how he had a family member whose blindness could have been prevented.

It costs $50 to cure blindness caused by cataract or refractive error, for example, and the project, through fundraising alone, has raised just over $55 million through ingenious initiatives.

"We are very passionate about this initiative. We got two goal posts and placed them in the banking hall and said to the staff, here is your chance to beat your boss. We got the boss to stand there and staff members paid to take a free kick and score past him. We raised $1,000 in just half an hour," Mrs Mashhood added.

The soccer clinics were offered to football fans from the Saudi Bahraini Institute for the Blind, the special needs football team from the Special Needs Olympics Committee, and Bahrain Bayan School, Ibn Khuldoon National School and St Christopher's School pupils were treated to a session with the coaches.

Forbes Duff, 32, the international activity manager at Liverpool FC's Foundation alongside fellow coach Karl Carney, 25, kick-started the day staging fun exercises and games for 14 visually-impaired children, between the ages of seven and 15, from the blind institute at Soccercity in Janabiyah.

Duff said: "Our plan was to interact with the kids, play some fun games and do some exercises using the highly-visible coloured balls. We finished an hour's session of dribbling by giving the children gifts on behalf of the club and bank as well as a certificate."

The children lined up behind yellow footballs and were guided by the coaches through an obstacle course. The youngsters were handed the footballs and followed coaching directions by listening to the sounds of voices and clapping.

Bank volunteers assisted the duo and helped translate their messages from English to Arabic.

Karl said: "We could sense the children's excitement when they arrived at the pitch. We wanted to give them a day to remember and put a smile on their faces. That's what makes it worthwhile for us. We have visited many countries including Africa, India, Pakistan and the Gulf region to share our global message and football philosophy."

In the afternoon, the coaches met with a group of special needs adults, ranging between the ages of 16 and 33, at the Shaikh Isa Sports City's Bahrain Disabled Sports Federation gym in Riffa. Most of them have learning difficulties and others are deaf.

Wafiqa Khalil Jamal, 54, Special Olympics Bahrain sports director, from Riffa, said: "The teens and adults were so thrilled to have this opportunity. They are always anxious to take part in activities where they can display their talents to the community and meet with their friends.

"They are very social and even if they have different levels of learning deficiencies, it does not stop them from enjoying sport or interacting with others. Some of them are very independent, working and playing a role in the community."

The Special Olympics Bahrain Committee is currently recruiting special needs footballers under the age of 26 to take part in an international football tournament in Dubai in May.

The two top competitors will then fly out to Brazil to take part in the INAS World Football Championship for athletes with intellectual disabilities (also known as mental retardation). It takes place every four years, typically in the country that also hosts the FIFA World Cup.

Mrs Jamal explained: "Having the football clinics will help the players prepare for this competition."

Ahmed Mohammed Al Shaikh, 24, from Isa Town was excited about the clinic and believed it did help. He said: "I was happy to meet with the Liverpool coaches. We have a lot of talent here and we know how to play."

His friend Sayed Qassim Sayed Mustafa Mohammed Al Alawi, 26, a carpenter, from Hamad Town, said: "I followed their instructions and learned a lot."

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Publication:Gulf Weekly
Date:Mar 27, 2013
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