Football Fever Starts Here: 45,000 Athletes to Participate in 450 Events Across 50 Countries for Special Olympics European Football Week 2018

As football fever heats up, Special Olympics European Football Week 2018 kicks off! From 19 to 27 May, 45,000 athletes across 50 countries will take to the pitches of Europe Eurasia and enjoy the beautiful game.

European Football Week, which involves a total of 450 events, is supported by UEFA, national football federations and clubs across the region and MetLife Foundation. It comes at as all eyes in the football world turn to the UEFA club competition finals.

The goal of this year’s European Football Week is to encourage more children and young people, those with and without intellectual disabilities, to play Unified football together and in doing so promote a healthy and active lifestyle.

Julen Lopetegui lends his support

The manager of Spain’s national football team, Julen Lopetegui, took time out of his World Cup preparation to encourage young footballers to participate. Lopetegui said, “I am delighted to support European Football Week. Special Olympics athletes teach us that football is for everyone to enjoy and to play.”

Lopetegui, a Special Olympics global ambassador, is a firm believer that everyone is equal on the pitch: “For me it’s very important that all of the kids have the possibility to be equal because they are equal … I don’t think there are people with disabilities—there are people with different qualities and we need to give confidence to all of the kids.”

UEFA partners for 18th consecutive year

UEFA has been a loyal supporter of European Football Week for the past 18 years. Once again this year, football federations, football leagues and their clubs will support players with intellectual disabilities throughout the week. Clubs from the Italian Serie A and B, German Bundesliga, Polish Ekstraklasa, Hungarian NBi-OTP Bank, the Spanish Fundación del Fútbol Professional and the Premier League in Great Britain are just some of the big name leagues getting involved.

Athletes enjoying football activities during Special Olympics European Football Week 2017 in Spain.

Peter Gilliéron, Chairman, UEFA Fair Play and Social Responsibility Committee, commented: “The annual Special Olympics European Football Week is, since 2000, a red letter week in the football calendar. UEFA is committed to supporting Special Olympics football activities so that everyone, regardless of ability level, has the opportunity to enjoy football.”

MetLife employees on board once again

European Football Week will also include Special Olympics Young Athletes Programme activities, designed especially for two to seven-year olds. This activity, along with other sport events, is being supported by employee volunteers from MetLife, one of the world’s leading insurance companies, and MetLife Foundation. MetLife Foundation is providing funding for Special Olympics as part of the third Community Week across its European, Middle East and Africa (EMEA) region. Special Olympics was selected by MetLife Foundation as one of its partners during Community Week due to a shared mission to create a more inclusive world for people with intellectual disabilities through sport and health programmes. MetLife Foundation also is providing leadership support for the expansion of the Young Athletes programme across Europe Eurasia.

As part of Community Week, MetLife employees will volunteer at Special Olympics Young Athletes, Unified Football and other sport events.

David S. Evangelista, President and Managing Director, Special Olympics Europe Eurasia noted: “Special Olympics European Football Week—now in its 18th consecutive year—is a significant platform for the Special Olympics movement as part of our annual calendar. Together with the European football community, Special Olympics is able to implement inclusive football programming in some 50+ nations to highlight the talents and abilities of athletes with intellectual disabilities.

This year the theme is ‘Playing and Growing Together —increasing activities for children and youth’. The aim is to build children’s football through our Young Athletes Programme and youth Unified Football. By bringing together young players with and without intellectual disabilities on the same teams and football pitches, we hope to create a more inclusive world for everyone.”

Football in Special Olympics

Football is one of the most popular sports in Special Olympics Europe Eurasia. There are 139,000 registered players and 7,700 coaches involved in the game across 58 European countries. The number of youth players aged six to 15 years of age stands at 50,000 and is growing.

For more photos from European Football Week 2017, visit our Flickr album.

About Special Olympics

Special Olympics is a global inclusion movement using sport, health, education and leadership programs every day around the world to end discrimination against and empower people with intellectual disabilities. Founded in 1968, and celebrating its 50th Anniversary this year, the Special Olympics movement has grown to more than 5 million athletes and Unified partners in more than 170 countries. With the support of more than 1 million coaches and volunteers, Special Olympics delivers 32 Olympic-type sports and over 108,000 games and competitions throughout the year. Special Olympics is supported by individuals, foundations and partners, including the Christmas Records Trust, the Law Enforcement Torch Run® for Special Olympics, The Coca-Cola Company, United Airlines, The Walt Disney Company and ESPN, Microsoft, Lions Clubs International, Bank of America, Essilor Vision Foundation, the Golisano Foundation, Safilo Group, and TOYOTA. Click here for a full list of partners. Engage with us on: Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, Instagram and our blog on Medium.

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Fiona Hynes
Special Olympics Europe Eurasia
00 353 87 1342820