Lionel Messi of Argentina
Born into poverty in Argentina, Lionel Messi was a football prodigy from practically the day he could run. He was the talk of the town, attracting crowds even as a 5-year-old.
But at just age 10, Messi received some terrible news. He was diagnosed with Human Growth Hormone Deficiency (GHD), meaning that without expensive treatment, he would never grow normally and would never have the chance to his talent.
After local teams declined to pay for his $1000 a month injections, something that had never before happened took place. One of Europe’s biggest teams, Barcelona (Spain), took a chance on this unknown foreign child and signed him, committing to pay for all his treatments and providing him and his family with lodging.
Remember, this is not an 18-year-old star; this is a sickly 12-year-old child no larger than a 7-year-old!
Messi’s treatment worked, and boy, did he repay Barcelona’s favor!
Messi became the greatest player in its history (and any club’s history), winning Barcelona every possible trophy many times and weaving dizzying performances that made the entire world sing his name.
That tiny boy, born one year after the great Diego Maradona stunned the world with his 1986 magical performances that last won Argentina a World Cup, overcame the odds of abject poverty and debilitating health to seal his legend as the greatest ever and launch millions into Argentina’s streets again. Even Hollywood could not write a story like this.
This is football. Mythical.
A Moroccan Boy with GHD Is Helped by Messi
Ten years ago, a Moroccan mother, Soad Al Affani, felt all hope was lost after failing to find the funds necessary to help her 12-year-old son, Waleed Kashksh, receive treatment for his Growth Hormone deficiency. Desperate, she took the long shot as only a mother could and wrote to Messi.
To her surprise, Messi answered, promising to help. And he kept his promise.
Messi continued to consistently fund Waleed’s monthly treatment till only 4 years ago when he became 18 and no longer needed medical help.
This is football. Real.
Football As a Global Equalizer
I love football because it is a level playing field and an equalizer like no other, a truly global space like no other, an uniter of the world’s diversity in camaraderie like no other, a shared language of the people like no other, and a source of mass euphoria like no other.
I love football because every side of every conflict in Argentina, Brazil, Italy, Egypt, or Senegal – whether political or economic or social – will only stand shoulder to shoulder and together flood the streets in common purpose should their national team win a tournament.
I love football because boys and girls who grow up playing barefoot with coconuts can be teammates with those born into aristocracy – and even get ahead.
(The above article was written by Ahmed Rehab and posted publicly on social media. Ahmed is CAIR-Chicago’s Executive Director and a regular contributor to the Chicago Tribune and Chicago Public Radio).