Winnipeg soccer player with dwarfism flying to Peru for international tournament

Vivek Bhagria is representing Canada at the Copa America De Talla Baja in Peru, a soccer tournament for people with dwarfism. Mark Neufeld reports.

By Mark Neufeld

A Canadian athlete hopes to inspire others, score big, and bring home the gold medal at one of the world’s most distinguished soccer tournaments for players with dwarfism.

Vivek Bhagria is the only player from Manitoba who will be taking the field at the Copa America de Talla Baja, an international soccer tournament in South America that was cancelled last year due to COVID-19.

“It feels amazing, you know, you’re the only one,” said Bhagria. “It’s an amazing feeling honouring and representing your country and I feel really good and honoured.”

Bhagria, who plays as a striker for Team Canada, says soccer has always been part of his life.

“I’ve been playing since I was four or five, I started kicking the ball when I was really young.”

Bhagria will be flying to Peru for May 20 to join his teammates, some of whom are from the United States, to form a hybrid North American team.

After getting some practice in with his teammates, they’ll face off against the 10 other teams competing from other countries in the tournament.

“It’s crazy like, when you go to play the actual game, people in the stands are just jumping and jumping, it’s like you’re playing in England, you know,” said Bhagria. “Soccer, like when you watch it, people are screaming, people are singing.”

Bhagria competed in the tournament in 2019 when it was held in Argentina and placed fourth out of nine teams before the pandemic halted competitions in 2020 and 2021.

“Going to these games every time is like a happy moment for me,” he said.

For the past few weeks the Manitoban has been training hard and working on his cardio to prepare for his matches, including practicing shots on hockey nets. Bhagria says the smaller net helps him dial in his accuracy and makes it easier to hit the corners on regulation-sized soccer nets.

Vivek Bhagria practising his accuracy using a hockey net. (Credit: CityNews/Mark Neufeld)

And although Bhagria says its an honour to be selected to represent his country, he’s also playing to inspire others.

“I want to become a huge role model for young people in life, so that people don’t get bullied,” he said. “I want to be an inspiration for the young people within the dwarfism community.”

The tournament, which will be livestreamed on Facebook, runs run from May 20-24.

Top Stories

Top Stories

Most Watched Today