Special Olympics athletes and refugees #PlayUnified in Belgium

Special Olympics Belgium athletes and refugees who are living in Belgium came together to demonstrate the power of inclusion at a recent Special Olympics Unified Football Competition in Brussels.
A man in a red football kit with his back to the camera kicks a football towards the net and a goalkeeper in yellow.
A shot on goal at the Special Olympics Unified Football Competition in Kraainem Football Club, Brussels on Monday, 14 October 2019.

Special Olympics footballers from SJN club in Schaerbeek, Brussels and refugee footballers with the organisation ‘Fedasil’ joined forces to create five teams for this unique competition. Together these players with and without intellectual disabilities from a huge diversity of backgrounds showed the power of Special Olympics Unified Sports.

Christo Velkov, Vice-President, Strategic Development with Special Olympics Europe Eurasia, was out on the pitch, playing alongside Special Olympics athletes and refugees. He said, "This event is a wonderful example of the values of the Special Olympics movement: everyone is welcome, respect and inclusion are paramount, on and next to the football field, regardless of level, gender or belief. Today everyone wins". He was also joined on the field by Special Olympics Belgium Ambassador, Henny Seroeyen.

A young man in a yellow football jersey shakes hands with a woman in a white t-shirt and red baseball cap. They are standing on a football pitch and there are other footballers in the background.
A Special Olympics Belgium athlete receives his medal following the Special Olympics Unified Football Competition in Kraainem Football Club, Brussels on Monday, 14 October 2019.

The competition was an opportunity to show the vision of Special Olympics for a truly inclusive society in action—a vision where everyone's capabilities are valued, where athletes with and without intellectual disabilities together experience the joy of sports. It was also an opportunity to promote Special Olympics activities in Europe in the coming years to the people of Brussels—namely the World Winter Games in Sweden in 2021 and the World Summer Games in Germany in 2023. These international events provide fantastic opportunities for cultural exchange for Special Olympics athletes across Europe, and indeed across the world.

Hamza, a Special Olympics Belgium athlete from the SJN club in Schaerbeek thoroughly enjoyed the competition. He said, “It was fun to play with [the refugee players]. Even though we do not speak the same language, we played well together and understood each other. I like to travel with Special Olympics and always get to know new people!”.

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