More than 200 delegates from 12 countries took part in the inaugural Special Olympics International Football Championship held in Chennai, from 3 August to 6 August 2019.
Jointly organized by Lions Club International District 324 A6 and the Youth Development Consortium, and supported by Special Olympics Asia Pacific and Special Olympics Bharat, the event was a showcase of the power of sport to drive social inclusion for people with intellectual disabilities.
Held in Chennai for the first time, India welcomed 18 teams—made up of athletes with intellectual disabilities—from countries including Austria, Bangladesh, India, Egypt, Indonesia, Korea, Malaysia, Maldives, Myanmar, the Philippines, Russia, and the United Arab Emirates.
“It is my hope that this unprecedented event will promote international understanding and friendship, give Special Olympics Programs a conduit to their local football federations, and expose our work to millions of football fans across Asia to confirm what they already knowë—the power of football to elevate, unite and include.”
Hosted by Evoke Media, the football championship also played host to other events to advance inclusion, including the Special Olympics Torch Run, held on 1 August at the Women’s Christian College. The Special Olympics Flame of Hope is a globally-recognized symbol for inclusion, courage and diversity. It was received by the Minister of Youth Affairs and Sports Kiren Rijiju on 26 July in New Delhi, and concluded its journey at the Opening Ceremony of the Special Olympics International Football Championship on 3 August.
Some of the biggest Indian names in music performed at the Opening Ceremony, including hip-hop dance champions The Kings and Chennai-based band Staccato. Athletes competed for the Championship Cup from 4 Aug to 6 Aug, before attending the Closing Ceremony on the evening of 6 August. All delegates were also taken on a tour of Chennai, to meet with other athletes and to experience local culture.