Egypt is in the enviable position of being the first African country to host the Sitting World Volleyball Championship for the disabled, writes Abeer Anwar

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Egypt against Germany compete in a world championship

The Sitting World Volleyball Championship will begin tomorrow, the first time a world championship in any disabled sport is held in Africa.

At Cairo Stadium's indoor hall and under the auspices of Mrs Suzanne Mubarak, 10 teams divided into two groups will vie for the title up until 3 October. In this eighth edition of the tournament, Group A includes Iran, Iraq, Japan, Hungary and the US while Group B comprises Bosnia, Egypt, Germany, Morocco and Holland.

Egypt's 12 players were chosen from the national cup and league competitions. "We've been training for a year," Mansour Mohammadi, Egypt's coach, said. "We went to Iran, the world's No 1 in the sport, where we played seven matches. I hope that this time we'll win a medal especially since we've prepared well for the event."

How Egypt got to host the tournament dates back to the 2000 Sydney Paralympics in which the country finished fourth. "Egypt's success in sports for the disabled -- it finished seventh in the 2001 World Championships in Iran -- boosted its chances to host the world championship," Nabil Salem, head of the Egyptian Paralympic Committee and the organising committee, said.

Salem added that Gerard Brouwers, the director of the World Volleyball Organisation for the Disabled had been pleasantly surprised when he paid an inspection visit to the venues and the sports facilities in Egypt.

It was during the WVOD general assembly in Sydney 2002 that it was agreed Egypt would host the championship as a plan of action "to promote and develop volleyball in developing countries".

"Our goal is to develop and promote volleyball for the disabled in the Afro-Arab region as well as all other sports for athletes with disabilities, aiming at full integration," Brouwers said.

Volleyball in the Paralympic Games is divided into two events: standing volleyball and sitting volleyball. In this way, the events are open to athletes with all types of mobility impairments. High levels of team work, skill, strategy and intensity are immediately evident in both games.

The big difference between traditional standing volleyball and the sitting version is a smaller court and lower net. In sitting volleyball the court is 5x6m; a normal-size court is 9x9. The net is 115cm high for those sitting and 143cm for standing. And players in sitting volleyball are not allowed to raise their buttocks off the floor. All other rules apply to both versions.

The game made its debut more than 50 years ago, beginning with Ludwig Guttmann, a neurosurgeon, who emigrated with his family to England in March 1939 as a refugee from Nazi Germany. At the beginning of 1944, while Guttmann was conducting research at Oxford University, he was asked by the British government to set up a spinal injury centre at Stoke Mandeville Hospital. In the institute, he put into practice unique ideas of treating and rehabilitating paralysed spinal cord patients -- hitherto regarded as hopeless and helpless cripples with a short life expectation.

That Guttmann was successful in establishing a spinal cord injury service, a model to the whole world, is a matter of history. But there was a particular aspect of his philosophy and foresight that was to have far- reaching influence not only on the lives of people suffering from spinal cord paralyses but for many other people throughout the world with various other disabilities.

"If I ever did one good thing in my medical career," Guttmann once said, "it was to introduce sport into the treatment and rehabilitation programme of spinal cord sufferers and other severely disabled."

In 1948, the first Stoke Mandeville Games were held with the participation of 16 paralysed wheelchair competitors in archery. The games became "international" in 1952 with the participation of a Dutch team of war veterans.

As for sitting volleyball, its first sports club was established in The Netherlands in 1953. Athletics and sitzball -- originating from Germany -- were the major sports. Soon it was found that sitzball, which is played sitting down on the floor, was too passive; more mobile forms of sports were needed.

In 1956, the Dutch Sports Committee introduced a new game called sitting volleyball, a combination of sitzball and volleyball. Since then sitting volleyball has grown into one of the biggest sports practiced in competition not only by the disabled in Holland but by interested "able- bodied" volleyball players with an injury of the ankle or knee.

Since 1967, international competitions have been taking place but it was only in 1978 that the International Sports Organisation for the Disabled (ISOD) accepted sitting volleyball in its programme. The first official international tournament, under the umbrella of the ISOD took place in 1979 in Haarlem, Holland. In 1980, it was accepted as a Paralympic sport with the participation of seven teams.

International development can be called tumultuous. Clinics have been held all over the world and regular, world, European and regional championships are organised annually.

Since 1993, sitting volleyball championships have been held for men and women.

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