Special Olympics Global Football

The goal of the Global Football initiative is to give more and more Special Olympics athletes the chance to play the most popular sport in the world -- football (soccer). The visibility and power of football will also help bring greater awareness, acceptance and respect for people with intellectual disabilities.

Players at the Unity Cup in South Africa keep their eyes on the ball as it sails through the air

Game on! Players at the 2010 Unity Cup keep their eyes on the ball. The match was played just before the FIFA World Cup quarterfinals in Capetown, South Africa. Photo by FIFA Action Images.

High Visibility, High Impact

Football is the world’s most popular sport. No other sport has its reach and impact. We know football transforms athletes, and we believe it has the popularity and power to help transform attitudes about intellectual disability as well.

The Special Olympics Global Football initiative was launched in association with the Union of European Football Associations (UEFA) and the Fédération Internationale de Football Association (FIFA).

FIFA President Joseph S. Blatter is enthusiastic about the Global Football mission. He says, "FIFA is determined to give its support to Special Olympics, whose goal is truly remarkable." Through its Football For Hope Movement, FIFA is helping Special Olympics in 10 countries in Africa. Thanks to this partnership, more than 3,000 young players with intellectual disabilities have become involved in football training and competition. They are also given free health screenings.

Since its start in 2008, the Global Football iniative has been attracting a lot of enthusiastic and high-profile support. This includes professional football clubs Inter-Milan, Italy; Manchester United, Glasgow Celtic and Tottenham Hotspur, United Kingdom; Sports Club Corinthians Paulista, Brazil; Monarcas de Morelia, Mexico; Sounders FC, USA. 

Many well-known football stars are also big supporters, including Kaka, David James, Carlos Parreira, Kristine Lilly, Doris Fitschen, Teofilo Cubillas and Dani Alves. The initiative is being co-chaired by Angelo Moratti, Special Olympics International Board member and nephew of Inter-Milan owner, Massimo Moratti, along with Argentinian football legend Osvaldo (Ossie) Ardiles.

"Through football, we can help people with intellectual disabilities achieve greater things, on and off the field; in turn, they can inspire all of us with their unstoppable spirit," says Ardiles.

Special Olympics Global Football has three goals:

1.  Bring football to a total of 1 million Special Olympics athletes worldwide by the year 2015
2.  Increase the quality of coaching our athletes receive
3.  Help our athletes build skills they can use on and off the playing field 

Ahead of the next FIFA World Cup in Brazil in 2014, Special Olympics will be using the growing attention to the sport to bring football to more people with intellectual disabilities all around the world.

Recently, thanks to the success of Special Olympics global football, more than 30 national football federations across Europe have integrated support of players with intellectual disabilities into their regular activity plans. This paves the way for other sports organizations, like the European Swimming League and FIBA (international basketball), to do the same.


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