Our Impact

Hosting the 2022 Special Olympics World Winter Games: The Story of the City of Kazan

A teenage girl jumps to take a basketball shot as a teenage boy jumps in front of her to block it, while a few teammates and coaches look on. They are on an indoor basketball court with Special Olympics and Stavros Niarchos Foundation banners.
Russian youth compete in a Unified basketball game.

In southwest Russia, on the banks of the Volga and Kazanka rivers, lies Kazan—a city eagerly preparing to host the 2022 Special Olympics World Winter Games (WWG 2022). Since 2019, when Play Unified: Learn Unified launched in the country, nearly 500 young Russians with and without intellectual disabilities have been trained as Youth Leaders. The momentum of Unified Schools in Russia stands out as a trailblazing endeavor, making Russia a deserving host of the World Games.

Preparing for the World Games is no small feat; however, thanks to Play Unified: Learn Unified, Special Olympics Russia has a strong infrastructure of Youth Leaders and Unified Schools ready to aid Kazan in spreading the global movement for inclusion. Play Unified: Learn Unified has helped make inclusion and disability advocacy an ongoing part of Russia’s national conversation, engaging politicians and shifting cultural attitudes and values.

“These two years, I’ve been energized by the grateful smiles of our Unified athletes and partners. It's really worth it. Thank you very much to the Stavros Niarchos Foundation and Special Olympics for the opportunity to be part of such an important contribution to society.”
Maria Rakova, Deputy General Director of Special Olympics Russia
A large white building with a steeple with a star at the top has the Kazan logo of white, pink, and teal dragons and swirls projected onto it, at nighttime.
The WWG 2022 logo unveiled during a ceremony at the Kazan Kremlin in January 2021.

The national excitement surrounding the World Games is providing important visibility and traction for this growth. Leading up to WWG 2022, Special Olympics Russia intends to sign Memorandums of Understanding with new Unified Schools and will continue its efforts to train more Youth Leaders. Additionally, Youth Leaders plan to educate their school communities about Special Olympics and the World Games.

In January 2022, Kazan will welcome thousands of athletes, Unified partners, coaches, teachers, family members, sponsors and fans. Russia’s Youth Leaders will have the rare opportunity to meet their peers from around the world and be a driving force behind the movement for social inclusion.

Maria Rakova, Deputy General Director of Special Olympics Russia, describes working on Play Unified: Learn Unified this way: “These two years, I’ve been energized by the grateful smiles of our Unified athletes and partners. It's really worth it. Thank you very much to the Stavros Niarchos Foundation and Special Olympics for the opportunity to be part of such an important contribution to society.” With the spotlight on Russia for WWG 2022, Play Unified: Learn Unified will stand tall as a visible and vigorous beacon for inclusion.

Unified Schools
Special Olympics Russia created 167 new Unified Schools in six regions over the first three years of Play Unified: Learn Unified. With support from the Stavros Niarchos Foundation, this initiative has engaged 6,100 athletes with disabilities and Unified partners without disabilities.

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