Promoting equal access to the football pitch for every player is at the heart of a new partnership between Special Olympics Europe Eurasia (SOEE) and the European Football Development Network (EFDN).
The agreement was signed in the city of Prague on 14 December 2018. The partnership aims to develop football activities and opportunities for athletes with and without intellectual disabilities across Europe.
The European Football for Development Network is made up of professional football clubs who are committed to promoting social responsibility activities in their communities. The EFDN network seeks to promote the power of football as a tool for social development and support the efforts of the network members in their initiatives to use football to reach out to various target groups. Some of the biggest names in European football, including Juventus F.C., Paris Saint Germain Foundation, Everton F.C and Bayern Leverkusen, are among EFDN’s members.
One of the key objectives of the new partnership between Special Olympics and EFDN will be to expand and promote opportunities for girls and women with intellectual disabilities in football. The flagship initiatives of the two organisations, namely Special Olympics European Football Week and EFDN’s More than Football Action Week will also be key areas of focus.
The signing ceremony took place at the 2018 Special Olympics European Football Conference, which was held at the Football Association of the Czech Republic’s headquarters. It was attended by 60 representatives from 38 countries.
Speaking about the new development, David Evangelista, President and Managing Director of Special Olympics Europe Eurasia, commented: “The partnership between the EFDN and Special Olympics will serve to provide exciting new football opportunities for our athletes within the EFDN club network. We look forward to working with the EFDN and greatly appreciate cooperating with them on initiatives that will develop football in the region.”
His comments were echoed by Hubert Rovers, CEO of EFDN Foundation, who said: “At EFDN we try to inspire and support all professional football organisations in Europe to be more engaged in their communities. For us, this means with everyone in the community. That is why I am especially proud of this new partnership between EFDN and Special Olympics because it will improve the quality of current football for social development programmes and create more opportunities for people with a disability in Europe to participate and engage with football clubs and in their community.“
Football is one of the most popular sports for Special Olympics athletes across Europe Eurasia. There are 139,000 registered players and 7,700 coaches involved in the game across the 58 countries in Western Europe, Central and Eastern Europe and Central Asia. The number of youth players aged six to 15 years of age stands at 50,000 and is growing, while the development of women’s football is also a big priority for Special Olympics.
Every year, Special Olympics stages a region-wide celebration of the beautiful game, European Football Week (EFW). 45,000 players take part in more than 450 football events in countries all over Europe. The initiative has been supported by UEFA for 18 years. The theme for the 2018 edition of EFW was to encourage more children and young people, those with and without intellectual disabilities, to play Unified football together and in doing so promote a healthy and active lifestyle.