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Israel National Football Championship Embraces Special Olympics

Special Olympics Israel athletes escort championship players onto the pitch
26 athletes from Special Olympics Israel escorting the players of Haopel Haifa onto the pitch at Sammy Ofer Stadium before the match against Beitar Jerusalem on 30 December 2019.

One very special day in late 2019, a group of athletes from Special Olympics Israel had the experience of a lifetime. They escorted the players of Hapoel Haifa onto the pitch ahead of a national championship match!

The 26 Special Olympics athletes selected to march alongside their heroes at the Sammy Ofer Stadium were part of the Unified football project sponsored by UEFA. The project consists of a partnership between Hapoel Haifa and Special Olympics which promotes inclusion and equity in sports.

The match was a fixture in Israel’s football championship, Ligat ha’Al, against Beitar Jerusalem Football Club which offered Special Olympics a national platform to advocate for inclusion and fight against discrimination. Channel 5, the main sports channel in Israel, covered the event and broadcast this powerful footage of our athletes proudly stepping into the stadium.

The athletes involved emphasised their joy and pride at being part of such a significant event. Not only was it an occasion to make their families proud of them, it was also an important sign of how the Special Olympics message of inclusion is making waves in Israel.

“For me, to see myself on TV was a dream come true. I am on the stage for everyone to see! We will open more Unified groups so that we can teach everyone about inclusion.”
Elad Saban

Hapoel Haifa’s opponent, Beitar Jerusalem Football Club, was also deeply moved by the passion and emotion that the Special Olympics athletes brought to the field. In fact, Beitar Jerusalem has now invited Special Olympics for a match at their home ground—the Teddy Kollek Stadium, with the intention of developing a new Unified football project.

The aim of Special Olympics Israel is to provide athletes with more occasions to display their talent by building Unified teams for each football club in Israel.

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