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Special Olympics Europe Eurasia Launches Faces of Basketball

Today, Special Olympics Europe Eurasia has launched a unique online-offline activity hub and campaign called Faces of Basketball to celebrate European Basketball Week 2021 and International Day of Persons with Disabilities on 3 December.

#FacesofBasketball launches today!

With Europe once again in the throes of the pandemic, the platform offers athletes who cannot attend competitions the opportunity to follow Locker Room training videos created by Special Olympics athletes and coaches in Belgium, Italy and Romania. The hub, supported by Lions Clubs International Foundation and Toyota, also provides an online showcase for the 200+ local, grassroots Special Olympics events that can safely take place across Europe. Additionally, anyone – player, coach or supporter – can show their support by creating a personalised Faces of Basketball profile card in the Hall of Fame and sharing on their social media channels. Athletes, coaches and supporters across the region can explore the website in six European languages: English, French, German, Italian, Russian and Spanish.

Why Faces of Basketball?

The Covid-19 pandemic has had a devastating impact on the six million Special Olympics athletes around the world. A 2021 study published in the New England Journal of Medicine (NEJM) Catalyst found that people with intellectual disabilities are almost six times more likely to die from Covid-19 than the general population.

It is no surprise that, in 2020, there was a more than 40% drop in the numbers of athletes engaged and able to access Special Olympics sport training and competition – that’s a decrease of 2.5 million globally and of 100,000 in Europe. The ever-evolving situation with Covid-19 in our region and worldwide means that many of our athletes still need a safe and remote way to train and interact with coaches and peers which does not expose them to the virus.

Three basketball players – two in blue kits and one in a grey kit – players run along a basketball court. One of the players is about to bounce a basketball.
Special Olympics athletes in action at the 2020 NBA Cares Special Olympics Unified Basketball Game on 14 February 2020 in Chicago, Illinois, United States.

Impact on athletes

Petrisor Ionut Catalin, a Special Olympics Romania basketball player, felt the loss of connection with Special Olympics in-person at the height of the pandemic. He says, “It was hard that I couldn't go out anymore, I didn't meet my friends at competitions and I didn't do sports anymore.” Valerie Geluykens and Tamara Medarts, a Unified Coaching Pair from Flanders in Belgium, also missed face-to-face sports training and competition during lockdown. Valerie says, “We both missed basketball: being able to do sport, other than walking, biking or running… but also the team: as a player and as a coach. During Covid, the world got so much smaller.”

Special Olympics Europe Eurasia President and Managing Director, David Evangelista, adds, “The Covid pandemic has deepened the isolation and marginalization of our athletes and individuals with intellectual disabilities both globally and here in Europe Eurasia. Many have lost a vital lifeline to sport. Our Faces of Basketball provides a key platform to re-engage athletes in a way that is safe, sustainable and fun- blending physical play with virtual connection.” David continues, “People with intellectual disabilities are six times more likely to die from Covi than the general population, so a ‘return to play’ strategy is not a simple proposition for a population subset at this level of risk- but through their leadership our movement perseveres, thrives and is ready to get back in the game.”

A basketball player in yellow hugs the basketball to her chest while two other basketball players in brown try to take it from her.
Special Olympics athletes in action at the 2020 NBA Cares Special Olympics Unified Basketball Game on 14 February 2020 in Chicago, Illinois, United States.

International Day of Persons with Disabilities (IDPD) on 3 December

Faces of Basketball is a way to increase the visibility of people with intellectual disabilities on International Day of Persons with Disabilities, 3rd December 2021. Those who have become less visible than ever since the pandemic can take part and feel inspired by the athletes from across the region who front the campaign. Tamara Medarts, Special Olympics Belgium, Lorenzo Mancino, Special Olympics Italy and Petrisor Ionut Catalin, Special Olympics Romania are bringing visibility to our movement and their fellow athletes through their participation in the ‘Locker Room’ online video training sessions.

What are you waiting for? Join Tamara, Lorenzo and Petrisor by signing up, training and sharing Faces of Basketball!


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