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FIBA Foundation’s Youth Leadership Programme: Driving Inclusion in Finland and Beyond!

Lauri Aaltonen—a Unified Partner and volunteer with Special Olympics Finland—is working with the Finnish Basketball Federation to drive inclusion forward as part of the FIBA Foundation’s Youth Leadership programme.
A group of 13 young people wearing FIBA Foundation branded t-shirts sit on tiered seating facing a speaker.
Special Olympics Finland’s Lauri Aaltonen (third row from front, first on the right) with his fellow Youth Leaders at the FIBA Foundation’s Youth Leadership programme workshop ahead of the FIBA Open from 15 to 16 June 2024.

Skillful, competitive and fast-paced basketball by teams of all abilities and ages was front and centre at the recent FIBA Open 2024 in Mies, Switzerland. But the FIBA Open is about much more than sport! Off the courts, 14 Youth Leaders from across Europe were on site learning how to use “Basketball For Good” in their communities as part of the FIBA Foundation’s Youth Leadership programme. Among them was Lauri Aaltonen—a Unified Partner and volunteer with Special Olympics Finland—who is on a mission to make basketball more inclusive in his home country.

Lauri’s trip to Mies was just one step in his journey as a Youth Leader with the FIBA Foundation’s six-month Youth Leadership programme. Like the other 13 participants, Lauri had already taken part in several online sessions before arriving at the workshops onsite in Switzerland. There, he continued his training with a focus on how to use basketball to create a positive impact within his community. Each Youth Leader is using the knowledge and skills that they develop through the programme to implement a project with their country’s National Basketball Federation.

As part of his project, Lauri is working with the Federation in Finland to promote and strengthen the participation of Special Olympics Finland in the upcoming Under-18 European Championships which begin on 18 July. Speaking courtside in at the FIBA Open, Lauri says, “One of my focuses is on under-18 players because they are still young and really ready to learn.”

A young man wearing a black FIBA Foundation “Basketball For Good” t-shirt stands in front of a basketball court holding a bottle of water.
Special Olympics Finland’s Lauri Aaltonen courtside at the the FIBA Open 2024. He was on site in Mies, Switzerland as a Youth Leader in the FIBA Foundation’s Youth Leadership programme.

Lauri’s project and those of the 13 other participants are the driving force behind the Youth Leadership programme, according to Paulina Fritz, Project Senior Associate with FIBA Foundation. She notes, “The purpose of the Youth Leadership programme is to educate and empower the Youth Leaders to create their own Basketball For Good projects in their countries. We accompany and support them on their journeys to create social change in their communities and using basketball as a tool to do so. The aim is for them to identify pressing issues in their communities and to develop projects that use basketball to contribute to solving them.”

The Youth Leadership programme has provided Lauri with expert training in how to sustainably drive the integration of Special Olympics Finland clubs into mainstream events like the Championships. He has worked with the National Federation to develop a detailed project plan and will be reporting back to the FIBA Foundation with all of his results.

Paulina underlines the importance of having a Special Olympics participant involved in the programme. She says, “Special Olympics is a highly valued partner of the FIBA Foundation and we are eager to further extend our collaboration. Having Lauri as a representative from the Special Olympics movement is a great opportunity to further create synergies in our joint efforts of creating a more inclusive society through basketball.”

Lauri is not only a focused organiser and advocate, he and his Special Olympics team—HNMKY Helsinki—are also proving to be a formidable force on the court. “We are the current national champions,” he says with a smile. A champion on the court and a champion for inclusion!

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