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Special Olympics Global Youth Leadership Forum to Help Advance Inclusive World

Seven Youth Leaders are seated on a panel at the Global Youth Leadership Forum in Baku.

Approximately 120 young people with and without intellectual disabilities from 45 countries will join leaders from the worlds of politics, sports, business and philanthropy such as Cafu, Nadia Comăneci, Bart Conner, Natalia Vodianova, and Vladimir (Vanja) Grbić at the Special Olympics Global Youth Leadership Forum in Baku, Azerbaijan starting today. Projects developed at this unique global youth gathering are expected to engage over 8,500 young people in inclusive sports and leadership activities across the world.

The Forum, which is one of the flagship events during the year-long 50th Anniversary celebration of Special Olympics, will bring together the youth leaders to work with 100 adult leaders and develop projects which will be implemented in their home countries. Special Olympics International will support these projects through grants.

Partners of the five-day Forum include the Ministry of Youth and Sport of the Republic of Azerbaijan as well as Lions Clubs International, the Stavros Niarchos Foundation, the DC Lion’s Heart Foundation, Qarabağ FK, United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), Azerbaijan Volleyball Federation, Azerbaijan Gymnastics Federation, The Coca-Cola Company and INSEAD.

As a core legacy of the Forum, Special Olympics Europe Eurasia and the United Nations Population Fund for Eastern Europe and Central Asia (UNFPA-EECARO) will sign a Memorandum of Understanding, jointly committing to empower youth throughout the region to achieve their full potential—both on and off the field of play.

“These young people represent the next generation of leaders, the Unified Generation, who are determined to deliver on the promise of inclusion—for the 200 million people in the world with intellectual disabilities and for everyone. In Baku, they will create the seeds of an inclusive world through their various projects, and when they return home, they will sow those seeds of inclusion throughout the world,” said Dr. Timothy Shriver, Chairman, Special Olympics International.

The Honourable Azad Rahimov, Minister of Youth and Sport of the Republic of Azerbaijan, said, “Azerbaijan is a country with an ancient and rich history, culture and traditions. We are proud to be known globally as a country of sport and a country that deeply values its youth. By hosting the 2018 Special Olympics Global Youth Leadership Forum, we once more demonstrate the value that we place on every single one our young people—those with and those without intellectual disabilities. As a new bridge towards a more inclusive world, this Forum will serve as a beacon of hope to all of those who have felt excluded from society.”

Forum attendees will be joined and supported by adult leaders from their Special Olympics accredited programmes, schools, sports clubs, and local communities. Representatives from business, government, service organisations, and international development, along with a number of high-profile sports stars committed to the Special Olympics movement—such as Olympic gold medalist and Special Olympics Global Ambassador Vladimir (Vanja) Grbić and Marcos Evangelista de Morais—known as Cafu—will play a crucial part at the Forum and work to inspire the youth leaders. Philanthropist and entrepreneur Natalia Vodianova, a board member with Special Olympics International, and gymnastics legends Bart Conner, a board member with Special Olympics International, and Nadia Comăneci, a Special Olympics Global Ambassador, will also join the Opening Ceremony on Monday 24 September. Professional football stars will take to the field for a Celebrity Unified Football Match in Baku’s Palace of Sport on Tuesday 25 September.

Developing a Unified Generation

One of the key objectives of the Special Olympics movement over the next 50 years will be the promotion of youth engagement through worldwide school-based initiatives—known as the Unified Schools programme—and the development of the Unified Generation, in which young people with and without intellectual disability come together through inclusive sport and leadership.

At the Forum, youth leaders will have opportunities to develop and expand their understanding of how they can drive social inclusion in their country, city, school, and community. They will learn new strategies and actions from globally recognized experts in leadership and social change to help advance a more inclusive world using the Special Olympics Unified Sports platform—where participants with and without intellectual disabilities train and compete together.

Baku Declaration

Youth representatives from all participating countries, as well as the Honourable Azad Rahimov, Minister of Youth and Sport of the Republic of Azerbaijan, and David Evangelista, President and Managing Director of Special Olympics Europe Eurasia, will sign the Baku Declaration—a commitment to working for an inclusive world following the Forum. The Declaration urges all governments, international development partners, civil society stakeholders and youth to support its vision for a world where all youth are included and can harness the benefits of inclusive sport participation, inclusive education, and share their gifts with their communities and nations.

Legacy of the Global Youth Leadership Forum

Upon returning home, youth delegations will spearhead a variety of inclusive projects; supported through the Special Olympics Youth Innovation Grant initiative. Through this effort, over 8,500 young people will engage in inclusive sports and leadership activities in 250 new Unified Schools and sports clubs worldwide.

Commenting on the Forum, Special Olympics Azerbaijan President, Shahin Aliyev added, “We are honoured that the Special Olympics Global Youth Forum is being hosted in Azerbaijan. Special Olympics Azerbaijan has been committed to this movement for 25 years. Being a member of Special Olympics is a great joy and honour for our athletes, coaches, volunteers and families in our organisation.”

A ‘Story Map’ providing youth delegations profiles can be accessed here:

Note to editors:

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 6 million athletes and Unified Sports 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 100,000 games and competitions throughout the year. Special Olympics is supported by individuals, foundations and partners, including Bank of America, the Christmas Records Trust, The Coca-Cola Company, ESPN, Essilor Vision Foundation, the Golisano Foundation, the Law Enforcement Torch Run for Special Olympics, Lions Clubs International, Microsoft, Safilo Group, Stavros Niarchos Foundation, TOYOTA, United Airlines, and The Walt Disney Company. Click here for a full list of partners. Engage with us on: Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, Instagram and our blog on Medium. Learn more at