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Special Olympics Announce Major Youth Basketball Tournament

A young woman shooting for a basket with two of her teammates in the background while a defender comes up beside her to block.
Basketball players from Special Olympics Kazakhstan and Special Olympics Ireland compete during the Special Olympics World Games Abu Dhabi 2019.

Special Olympics Europe Eurasia has today—on the International Day of Persons with Disabilities—announced that the first ever European Unified Youth Basketball Tournament will take place in Sansepolcro, Italy in October 2021. The tournament will see male and female players with and without intellectual disabilities compete over four days. In total, 24 teams from around Europe will take part in the tournament, which is part of a year-long project awarded funding by the Erasmus+ Programme of the European Union (EU).

With today being the International Day of Persons with Disabilities, there could not be a more apt time to announce this exciting new basketball project—and give basketballers across the region a new target to shoot for! Not only will the project aim to improve basketball coaching and provide equal opportunities for people with intellectual disabilities, it will also promote volunteerism, social inclusion, gender equality and grassroots community engagement.

This exciting announcement also comes at the peak Special Olympics Europe Eurasia’s annual flagship basketball event: European Basketball Week 2020 (#EBW2020).

Supported by partners, FIBA Europe and Euroleague Basketball One Team, this year the focus is on what you can do from your home, as well as Unified Youth Basketball & 3x3 Basketball. As we cannot necessarily meet and compete in person due to COVID-19 restrictions, basketball enthusiasts are encouraged to take advantage of online training opportunities and connect with fellow basketballers across the region digitally through Special Olympics Europe Eurasia social media accounts using the hashtag #EverythingCounts and #EBW2020.

Next year’s tournament will also coincide with European Basketball Week 2021. In the months leading up to the tournament, athletes and coaches alike will have the opportunity to build the teams, improve skills with a variety of kick-off events, as well as regular training sessions, workshops and seminars. One key aim is to expand the Unified Sports concept—where players with and without intellectual disabilities train and compete side by side—in particular for basketball players aged 14 to 30 years. The 24 teams will come from countries across the Europe, ranging from Finland to Cyprus.

Two teams on the court and competing in basketball. Young man is going for a shot and a player from the opposing team is trying to block him.
Basketball players from Special Olympics Hellas (Greece) and Special Olympics Poland compete during the Special Olympics World Games Abu Dhabi 2019.

David Evangelista, President and Managing Director of Special Olympics Europe Eurasia, was delighted to strike a positive cord at the end of a difficult year. He noted, “As 2020 draws to a close, we are excited to bring this platform to the athletes of Special Olympics, their coaches and families. This tournament—the first of its kind—will provide an opportunity to train, and engage, as we look to a more hopeful 12 months ahead. Our athletes and communities have shown tremendous resilience throughout the current pandemic, and like the global community, they are eager to reengage and restore the social connections that come through grass-roots sport. As part of our shared commitment to social inclusion worldwide, there is no better way to stay connected, both physically and virtually, than through Unified Sports.”

Meanwhile, Special Olympics Italy basketball player, Fulvio Prono from Piedmont, emphasised how important this event is to Special Olympics basketball players—both those from the host country and across Europe. “Today we look with a new sense of hope at our new goal for 2021: hosting the European Unified Youth Basketball Tournament. It’s a great opportunity to get back on the court and take back what this tragic global health emergency has stolen from us. Getting to play together again, rejoice, smile and hug each other means taking back our lives and being able to keep on dreaming.”

While the tournament will certainly be a major highlight of Special Olympics Europe Eurasia’s annual celebration of the power of sport to unify and break down barriers through European Basketball Week (EBW), the impact of the project will outlive any single event. A key legacy will be the creation of 70 Unified youth basketball teams in 15 European countries that will go on to regularly train and compete together. This in turn will offer each country a far wider pool of Unified players for future pan-European and international events, such as Special Olympics World Games in Berlin in 2023.

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