Evaluation of the Special Olympics Europe/Eurasia Unified Football Pilot-Project: Findings from Austria, Poland, Romania, Serbia and Slovakia
Consisting of surveys given to athletes, partners, coaches and
family members from 65 inclusive football teams from the five
countries, this research was designed to provide an evaluation of
the Europe/Eurasia Special Olympics Get into It (SOGII)/Unified
Football pilot project. The SOGII/Unified Football pilot project
brought together athletes and partners to train and compete as
equals on the football field. Before joining the Unified Sports
teams, partners received classroom instruction about intellectual
disabilities through the SOGII curriculum.
Although each Unified Football program is unique with regard to the
level of inclusion in each country and with regard to scope and
size of project implementation, the goals of the SOGII/Unified
football pilot project remain consistent, to promote the social
inclusion of students with intellectual disabilities and increase
youth involvement in Unified football programs. Likewise, results
vary from country to country, particularly in impact on partners'
attitudes, but on average, those involved report that the
initiative had a powerful, positive effect.
In addition to improving self-esteem and attitudes towards those
with intellectual disabilities, the program often increases social
inclusion away from the football field. A strong majority of
athletes report engaging in social activities with other players
outside of competition and practices. While it was more likely that
these interactions include other athletes, they also often included
the entire team and/or partners. This is significant because it
shows that athletes with intellectual disabilities do not simply
interact with each other, they also interact with youth without
intellectual disabilities. These findings are particularly dramatic
considering that in most of these countries there is no inclusion
in academic settings and very few of the partners had previously
even met anyone with an intellectual disability.
The findings from this research suggest that Unified Sports
provides a successful model for promoting social inclusion and
changing attitudes. Unified football is an experience that allowed
participants to learn new skills and have fun, achieve their own
goals, contribute to their team's performance, learn about one
another, and share social experiences.