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Five Russian Cities, Five ‘Play Unified. Learn Unified.’ Launches!

June was a very exciting month for Special Olympics Russia which launched the Stavros Niarchos Foundation (SNF) ‘Play Unified. Learn Unified.’ project in not one, but five cities across the country!
Five young people in traditional costumes pose on a stage with grass and a blue sky in the background.

This roll out in Russia is part of a powerful global partnership between SNF and Special Olympics, focused on youth and school engagement and promoting equality through sports. A key aim of the collaboration is to develop ‘inclusive education’ which gives students with and without intellectual disabilities the opportunity to learn and play together.

Through a series of Unified Football events, the regions of Vladimir, Chelyabinsk, Novosibirsk, Irkutsk and Yakutia showcased what wonderful ‘Play Unified. Learn Unified’ events we can expect over the next two years. These five regions will develop inclusive sports in over 100 schools with a keen focus on Unified Sports through which children with and without intellectual disabilities play together on the same team.

A group of young people in a red kit kneeling in a line, one holding a football, with a line of adults standing behind them. Lines of empty stadium seats are in the background.
Launch of the Special Olympics-Stravros Niarchos Foundation 'Play Unified. Learn Unified' project in the iconic Fisht stadium in Sochi, Russia in June 2019.

From the grandeur of the iconic Fisht stadium in Sochi to Yakutsk, just south of the Arctic Circle, each venue on the project launch tour offered its own unique charm and a slice of local culture. In each region, the importance of the project was keenly recognized.


In Yakutsk, Mr. Theodosius Gabyshev, President of the Special Olympics Regional Office in the Republic of Sakha (Yakutia) stated, “For us, the development of an inclusive school-based sports programme is not an easy but a comprehensible task … Unified Sport helps children with intellectual disabilities find new friends and empower themselves. For sure, the school children of Yakutia will become part of a large Unified movement within Special Olympics.”

A child on a stage dancing in traditional costume in front of a Special Olympics and Stavros Niarchos Foundation poster.
Launch of the Special Olympics-Stravros Niarchos Foundation 'Play Unified. Learn Unified' project in Yakutsk, Russia in June 2019.

The wide geographical and cultural spread of ‘Play Unified. Learn Unified.’ in Russia is clear. Novosibirsk, in Siberia, hosted a Unified tournament which gathered together participants from the regions of Chelyabinsk and Irkutsk Regions, and the Khabarovsk Territory as part of its launch. The Special Olympics Russiateam was determined to ensure that the project would reach not only the western part of Russia, but spread across the country.

A full month of project events culminated with 15 Unified volleyball and football teams taking part in the Special Olympics ‘Robinson Summer Camp’ in the Vladimir Region. During the camp, Special Olympics Russia surprised athletes and partners from both the Ivanovo and Vladimir regions with the announcement that they will also be a part of the ‘Play Unified. Learn Unified.’ project and benefit from Unified Sports and inclusive education activities.

Seven boys in luminous yellow football jerseys, black shorts and football boots kneel in front of a banner branded by Special Olympics and Stavros Niarchos Foundation.
Launch of the Special Olympics-Stavros Niarchos Foundation 'Play Unified. Learn Unified' project in Novosibirsk, Russia in June 2019.


Special Olympics Russia joins Special Olympics Serbia and Special Olympics Hellas (Greece) as a trio of countries in Europe Eurasia that are implementing this exciting project over the next two years. With these dedicated teams focusing their energy and enthusiasm on the development of Unified Schools, the future is bright for inclusive education!