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Special Olympics Athletes Break Barriers in the Western Balkans

Swimming competition takes place in North Macedonia with the support of the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA).
A young man doing the butterfly stroke.
Special Olympics North Macedonia swimmer Mario Mickovski competing in the 100m medley race at the Special Olympics Western Balkans Swimming Competition in Skopje.

Special Olympics athletes from Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kosovo, and hosts North Macedonia showcased heart, determination and remarkable skill at the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA)—supported Western Balkans Swimming Competition held in Skopje from 5 – 7 April.

Following the success of last year’s Special Olympics Western Balkans Unified 3x3 Basketball Tournament in Tirana, Albania, this year the UNFPA embarked on an exciting new event in collaboration with Special Olympics. The aim was to promote inclusion, equality, and strengthen collaboration among the youth of the Western Balkans through sports.

With the additional support of the Delegation of the European Union and the UN Resident Coordinator Office in North Macedonia, swimmers representing four Special Olympics Programs trained and competed at the Sports Centre Boris Trajkovski, proving once again that sport can break down barriers and be a driver of inclusion.

“The cooperation with UNFPA and the organization of this swimming event shows that Special Olympics is a link that enables the connection of young people with and without intellectual disabilities on a global, local, and regional level, breaking down stereotypes and creating a new sports narrative—one that embraces equality, trust, and inclusion.”
Dragan Karadzovski, Special Olympics North Macedonia National Director
Group shot of people standing in the bleachers of a swimming pool
Delegations, families and supporters celebrating the closing of the Special Olympics Western Balkans Swimming Competition in Skopje

However, the remarkable success of the event is just the beginning.

The enthusiasm and positive energy of the event in Skopje have laid a solid foundation for the ongoing development of Western Balkans Programs, where Special Olympics athletes are provided with the vital support they need to flourish both on and off the field, while fostering collaboration with committed partners like the UNFPA.

“Our aim is to provide a platform for engagement and unite young people from diverse backgrounds, fostering communication and exchange through sports, culture, civic education, and community projects.”
John Kennedy Mosoti, UNFPA Country Director for North Macedonia

“The vision for successful regional cooperation is in the hands of the young people of the region and their proactive role in creating and promoting mutual understanding and respect for diversity,” added Special Olympics North Macedonia President Monika Boshkoska.

“At the same time, this is an opportunity for Special Olympics athletes to present themselves as ambassadors of change and trust and creators of a united future.”

The event was organized within the framework of the regional joint UN project "Youth for Inclusion, Equality and Trust" funded by the UN Secretary-General’s Peacebuilding Fund. It aims to encourage young people to engage in constructive narratives, strengthening intercultural dialogue, inclusion, and gender equality.

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