People with intellectual disabilities have suffered profoundly during the global COVID-19 pandemic. In early 2020, spread of the virus brought all Special Olympics events to a shuddering halt, and many people with intellectual disabilities saw their daily lives made even more challenging. Special Olympics’ survey on the effect of the pandemic showed that 20 per cent of Europe and Eurasia-based athletes did not have enough food during the pandemic. It also found that 15 per cent of athletes did not have a safe place to live and 37 per cent of school-aged athletes lacked access to education or remote learning. Apart from these intense daily challenges, the threat of COVID-19 was even more acute for our athletes as people with intellectual disabilities are more vulnerable to the virus.
With our society and communities slowly beginning to open up again, Special Olympics is now thrilled to welcome athletes back to the pitch in a safe and controlled manner for European Football Week 2021 from 23 to 30 September. As well as the local football tournaments, competitions and workshops for players, there will be an additional focus on safeguarding training for coaches this year. Over 30 training sessions and webinars will be organised with a focus on policies and procedures that ensure a safe, respectful and healthy environment is nurtured before, during and after all Special Olympics activities.
Along with powerful support from UEFA for the 21st year running, 30 national football federations and 30 football clubs are also backing European Football Week this year, and all activities will also be a part of the European Week of Sport, an initiative of the European Commission, which runs in parallel to EFW2021.
Special Olympics Europe Eurasia President and Managing Director, David Evangelista, noted, “I’m excited to see Special Olympics footballers get back on pitches across Europe for safe, grass-roots events. As one of the populations most vulnerable to COVID-19, our athletes have shown great resilience in the face of this hardship over the past 18 months. They stand to teach all of us what determination, courage and solidarity really are—and it is an honour for me to cheer them on as they make their way back to the pitch!” He continued, “This year, safeguarding training is a key element of European Football Week. We are supporting Special Olympics programmes to develop and strengthen policies and procedures to prevent and address any incidents of mental, emotional and physical harassment and exploitation. The safety, health and well-being of our athletes on all levels—and at all times—is our number one priority as a movement, and we look forward to building this important policy work into our exciting 2021 European Football Week.”
Michele Uva, Director of UEFA’s football and social responsibility division added, “UEFA is delighted to support the Special Olympics’ European Football Week, which will bring joy to thousands of participants across 40 countries.” He continued, “Our 'football for all' policy is a key component of UEFA’s new social responsibility strategy. By working closely together, our two organisations will ensure that more and more people with special needs find their rightful place within the football community.”