Refugee who lost fingers to frostbite chasing soccer dreams

A refugee who lost fingers to frostbite while coming to Canada is chasing his dream of becoming a professional soccer player.

Seidu Mohammed is ready to fight for his team, the Wasps, which was sitting second place in the Manitoba Major Soccer League as of Tuesday.

The pressure is on to keep the winning streak going. “I’m determined to play for this team because this team is like my family now,” Mohammed says.

“We started from the bottom,” he says explaining how his team was second last in the league earlier this summer.

On the sidelines, there’s a small crowd of supporters cheering “Let’s go Seidu! Let’s go.” One of his fans has even brought a drum.

Mohammed has been on the field since July fighting as a defender for Wasps FC in the Manitoba Major Soccer League.

Soccer is everything to this 25-year-old Ghanaian refugee who lost all his fingers to frostbite after getting lost in the dead of winter with another asylum seeker while walking to Canada from the United States.

“I want to be a professional. I want to play soccer, that’s my dream,” he said, adding his favourite player is Portuguese professional​ Cristiano Ronaldo, a forward who plays for the Spanish club Real Madrid.

Mohammed left Ghana for Brazil in 2014 where he trained professionally. He says he was outed as a bisexual man in Brazil while in the country training for soccer after a team manager found him with another man he had met at an LGBT club.

“He started threatening me and telling bad stuff and saying [this] is going to destroy me, it’s going to end my career.”

Scared to return home where violence, police harassment and even a death sentence is possible for being LGBT, Mohammed applied for asylum in the United States.

A judge refused to grant him asylum, so he fled north with another man from Ghana for Canada, where they became lost crossing the Manitoba border. Both men were granted asylum by the Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada.

Playing soccer is something Mohammed, a rising star back home in Ghana, worried he wouldn’t be able to continue after doctors told him he’d lose all his fingers, a toe and maybe an arm.

Doctors had to amputate all his fingers, but the loss has had little impact on Mohammed’s performance on the field. He’s quick on his feet and takes command, directing other players, making sure they’re on top of their game.

Seidu Mohammed shoes

Mohammed still has his challenges and needs to get help tying his shoes when they come undone on the pitch. (Austin Grabish/CBC)

“When I’m playing I don’t feel like I lose my fingers. I feel like I’m still normal.”

Faces tough decision

Still, the loss has created challenges. Mohammed needs help tying his shoes when they come undone on the field and has a difficult decision to make — doctors want to amputate four of his toes so he can have two fingers on each hand.

“I’m thinking about it. Always thinking about it so I want to see whether I can still let them do that because losing my toe will be very difficult for me and I don’t know what [will] happen after that.”

The game ends 4-1, with Mohammed scoring two goals. Supporters stay till after midnight when the game ends and he’s named team captain shortly after.

Team has special bond

Mario Pereira is the Wasps’ left winger and says the team has a special bond. The team is mainly made up of refugees and many have endured conflict in other parts of the world.

The team is the brainchild of the late Jean-Baptiste Ajua, who drowned last summer.

The 22-year-old came to Canada from Rwanda and dreamed of getting his friends into the Manitoba Major Soccer League — something his friends made sure happened after he died.

“You just feel like something more than just these guys are just guys who can play with a soccer ball,” Pereira says.

Mario Pereira Winnipeg soccer

Pereira says the team has a special bond. (Tyson Koschik/CBC)

Mohammed says he would like to teach soccer to kids one day, but for now, he’s dedicating all his spare time to his team. 

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