Mirzet – the winner

Making Sarajevo proud standing on one foot

Text, video-editing and infographics by Melina Borčak, images by Elodie Armand

A few years ago, Mirzet didn’t even know this sport existed. A few weeks ago, at the Paralympics, he was named best hitter in the world and won a gold medal. Find out how a six-year-old victim of war became a champion.

„Hey, journalist! Film him paying for our drinks“ was the first thing we heard when we walked into the cafe where members of a sitting volleyball club were waiting before their training. They always joke around, even while playing. But, there was a time when they didn‘t have much to laugh about.

The neighbourhood of Buća Potok is on one of Sarajevo’s many hills – the famous hills home to the infamous Army of the Serb Republic forces who besieged the city for almost four years. During this time, in 1993, six-year-old Mirzet was playing with his friends. It was one of the quieter days in a city under siege.

Mirzet’s shoelaces untied and, as he was tying them, a grenade crashed next to the kids. His friends were on the other side of the street, unharmed. He wasn’t. He lost his left foot and spent two months in a hospital. „My friends were very considerate, they never excluded me. My teachers were very forthcoming and I was as fair as I could be too“, says Mirzet about his time growing up as disabled child in a warzone.

Ten years later, he was invited to an award ceremony for disabled athletes where he met members of a sitting volleyball club. „They persuaded me to come to a training and the rest is history“, says Mirzet jokingly.

He joined the same club, Fantomi, named after the phantom-pain amputees experience in the missing parts of their bodies. The members are mostly victims of war – civilians, veterans or post-war landmine survivors. He is also a part of the Bosnian national team, which won gold at this year’s Paralympics in London, where Mirzet was named the world‘s best hitter.

But, opposing teams are not the only thing Mirzet and his teammates have to overcome. Mirzet talked about financial problems, inconsiderate bosses, a government that values athletes very little and disabled athletes even less. Mirzet says, that although his coworkers are very helpful, the employers are not: „We really have problems – most of us work in private companies and the employers have no understanding for us. Some people almost lost their jobs because they went to a competition or preparations.“

Still, Mirzet manages to have time for his family, his job, sports and working on his Master degree at the Faculty for Sports and Physical Education in Sarajevo.

When asked what he would change in society’s attitude towards disabled athletes, he says: „I would change the attitude towards athletes in general. Funding for sports is minimal. Results from any sport should be valued – we can’t give someone money if there are no results. That means whoever accomplishes something with his team should be rewarded for it.“

Mirzet has a point: although the Bosnian national sitting volleyball team is the country‘s most successful sportsteam, they are not valued as much as their less successful non-disabled collegues. In fact, Bosnian law prescribes that disabled athletes get 50% less financial rewards for winning intermational titles than non-disabled ones. „Really, the amount is not important for us, but that is a violation of human rights in which people with disabilities are not equal to healthy people. It can be 100 bosnian marks (50 euros), let it be the same for valids and invalids.“

Despite conquering many obstacles, he is still fighting to be appreciated as much as he deserves. Turning loss into success and proving to the world that he is a true winner – not just in sports.

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