Demonstrating once again the power of sport to act as a unifying force, the small Israeli city of Tira, an Arab town of some 25,000 people about twenty minutes from Tel Aviv, was recently the scene of an inspiring football event.
Students of the schools of El Chanan and Elgazali took to the football pitch demonstrating how the social innovation of Special Olympics Unified Sports is taking Israel and the world by storm. This simple game of Unified football featuring athletes with and without intellectual disabilities impressed the President of the State of Israel, Reuven Rivlin. To celebrate the launch of Special Olympics Israel, President Rivlin hosted an event at his official residence in Jerusalem.
At the event, President Rivlin spoke to an assembled audience, which included key members of Knesset, Israel’s legislative body; industry and business; civil society; and sports. He lauded the impact that Special Olympics is making on Israeli society.
The importance of the work of Special Olympics Israel cannot be overstated, and through the leadership demonstrated here today and the example these athletes set every day, the future of our society and our nation just got much brighter.
The audience was also treated to a unique judo exhibition featuring Arik Ze’evi, the most decorated Olympic judo athlete in Israeli history, and Special Olympics Israel athlete Levav Barkan.
Also at the event, the Chairperson of Special Olympics Israel, Dr. Shai Piron, spoke of the urgency of bringing the mission of Special Olympics to the nation. As the former national Minister of Education, Dr. Piron sees schools not only as places of learning, but also of revelation. He said, “Through the creation of continuity of playing Unified, the youth of today—youth of all abilities—can teach us many things. Schools are the incubators of new ways of thinking, of understanding. The athletes are our guides. Let us harness this opportunity given to us today.”
The event also heard from David Evangelista, President and Managing Director of Special Olympics Europe Eurasia: "As the State of Israel celebrates 70 years, and our movement celebrates 50 years—our event here today is an open invitation FROM the athletes of Special Olympics Israel, indeed athletes worldwide, to join their world. A world where there are victories without victims.”