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Russia welcomes its first ever Special Olympics Athlete Leadership Council

Two men wearing face masks standing on the opposite sides of the Kazan mascot, Zylant the dragon.
(From left to right) Leadership mentor, Ilya Zakharenko, mascot, Zylant the dragon and Athlete Leader Laskov Sergei celebrating the 200 Day Countdown to the Special Olympics World Winter Games Kazan 2022.

Earlier this year, Special Olympics Russia convened its first-ever Athlete Leadership Council as part of the country’s pioneering Leadership Project involving athletes, coaches and families!

Over 200 people from Special Olympics Russia’s regional offices joined the project to further develop their leadership skills and become more confident public speakers and self-advocates. The group included 85 Special Olympics Russia athletes who are eager to showcase their skills, so they are ready to represent our movement, to the entire country and the world before and during the Special Olympics World Winter Games Kazan 2022.

Leadership programmes are a vital way that Special Olympics nurtures the leadership potential within our movement, teaching leaders of all abilities to learn from each other and create environments where people with intellectual disabilities succeed in meaningful roles. The Special Olympics Russia Athlete Leadership programme is designed to give its participants a chance to get involved in the organization of the events, help recruit more athletes, and support the coaches. It will also help to ensure a strong athlete presence in the final planning stages of the Kazan Games, which are scheduled to take place 22 – 28 January 2022.

The programme kicked off in April with two introductory and training webinars for 200 attendees.

“These Unified Leadership meetings gave a detailed introduction to what Unified Leadership means and the skills required to take leadership roles not only in Special Olympics but in different spheres of our communities, too,” commented Victoria Maksimenkova, Special Olympics Russia’s Programme Manager.

A group of young people sitting at a safe distance, wearing masks and attentively listening to someone talking in front of them, out of the shot.
Athletes members of Special Olympics Russia Athletes Leadership Council and their mentors listening to the practical session of the Leadership training devoted to the Speaking Skills of Leaders.

Following the sessions in April, the participating athletes were encouraged to take part in a contest to develop their own projects to promote or improve the Special Olympics Kazan World Winter Games in 2022.

Special Olympics Russia national swimming champion Yulia Koroleva, designed a project to draw attention to the upcoming competitions through the fashion industry. As part of her project, Yulia organized a photoshoot featuring athletes as models at the By Modno salon in her hometown of Novosibirsk to raise awareness of the movement and the many talents of our athletes.

Another inspired idea came from Alexander Gustyakov, a 31-year-old athlete with a burning passion for dancing. He developed a project for an international dance flash mob, titled "Welcome to Kazan". The aim of the project is to unite people with intellectual disabilities from different areas of Russia and around the world to support each other and the World Winter Games.

Thanks to their ingenuity and creativity, both Yulia and Alexander were among the 15 finalists who were chosen to join the first ever Special Olympics Russia Athlete Leadership Council, alongside their mentors, staff members of Special Olympics Russia and the Kazan Local Organizing Committee and volunteers for the Games. The Council will input into the organization of the Games from the athletes’ perspective, taking into consideration the particular needs of the athletes participating.

Group shot of 33 people in two rows standing in front of a beautiful mosque in Kazan.
Athlete Leadership group in front of Qolşärif Mosque, the main mosque of the Republic of Tatarstan, in the city of Kazan.

In autumn, Special Olympics Russia’s Athletes Leaders will learn more about their role in the Special Olympics World Winter Games in Kazan through additional training sessions and meetings with representatives of businesses and public authorities. "This is a very important step for us in developing Special Olympics Russia’s Athlete Leadership movement,” commented Anton Bulychev, Head of International Relations of Special Olympics Russia. “It’s very difficult to reach every region in Russia, but we managed to engage more than 25 regions and we are really proud of having such an extended participation. With the support of Special Olympics Europe Eurasia, Special Olympics Russia has held introductory seminars and caught the interest of many of our athletes and showcase their leadership talents!"

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