Captain of Ireland and Everton, Seamus Coleman, encourages footballers across Europe to sign up to the Special Olympics Faces of Football campaign.
Special Olympics Europe Eurasia has launched #FacesofFootball, a unique digital activity hub and campaign to encourage footballers with intellectual disabilities to stay active and engaged in the face of evolving of COVID-19 restrictions. Unprecedented engagement from athletes across Europe has resulted in almost 1,000 participants from over 40 nations already signed up and in training!
23 September marks the first day of Special Olympics European Football Week 2020. As with everything else this year, European Football Week 2020 is far from usual. It has gone online in the form of #FacesofFootball, a pioneering new digital hub for footballers with and without intellectual disabilities across Europe, their coaches and supporters.
The campaign has caught the attention of Ireland and Everton captain, Seamus Coleman who has thrown his weight behind it. He says, “Faces of Football gives football players with and without intellectual disabilities across Europe the opportunity to come together, train and compete in the game they love without ever leaving their own home or garden. Everyone is welcome and everyone is included. Even though we’re not physically together on the pitch or in the stadium, to me, this is the perfect example of the inclusive power of sport.”
The sense of isolation experienced by many as countries went into lockdown earlier this year is nothing new to those with intellectual disabilities. Marginalisation and exclusion are common experiences that many live with on a daily basis. However, COVID-19 and the accompanying restrictions exacerbated these feelings and brought with them worrying new challenges for Special Olympics athletes—many living in already vulnerable situations. A recent Special Olympics survey found that people with intellectual disabilities across Europe reported a lack of access to basic necessities: 20% of athletes surveyed did not have enough food and 15% did not have a safe place to live while 37% of school-aged athletes did not have access to education or remote learning. Meanwhile, 75% of athletes across the region felt more isolated during COVID-19.
The new #FacesofFootball campaign is meeting these challenges head on and uses digital technology to empower athletes to keep training, competing and, most importantly, connected with fellow players, coaches and supporters no matter what restrictions are in place.
Special Olympics Great Britain footballer Joe McKenzie from Inverness in Scotland agrees that now is the time for an initiative like #FacesofFootball. He says, “It’s good to keep everyone involved with the Special Olympics during this difficult time … To help them when they can’t get to training. You can go on the website, watch some videos and try it at home or out on a field to improve your skills, or to just enjoy playing football.”
Special Olympics Netherlands footballer Suzanne van den Einden-Brok from Hilvarenbeek adds, “#FacesofFootball gives me the opportunity to represent once again women in football on an international level, to be in contact with other football-focused people and to also train at home.”
Thanks to the support of our partners, Lions Clubs International Foundation and Toyota Motor Europe, players across the region can visit the Faces of Football hub, create unique Profile Cards and access a fantastic digital training programme to refine their football skills. They can also see their Profile Cards light up the Hall of Fame and track their progress against other programmes on the Leader Board. Each of the training videos were filmed on-location across Europe during lockdown and feature Special Olympics coaches and athletes delivering and showcasing a range of football drills and skills. For players who can still gather and compete on the pitch together, UEFA continues to support Special Olympics European Football Week on-site activities from 23 to 30 September.
Special Olympics Europe Eurasia President and Managing Director, David Evangelista, concludes, “COVID-19 has served to only deepen the social isolation that individuals with intellectual disabilities already face in communities around the world. Faces of Football offers an innovative platform upon and through which Special Olympics athletes, their peers, families, coaches and supporters can create sustained connection during these difficult times, while harnessing the benefits of staying active, physically fit, and promoting the great and universal sport of football. We invite everyone to the virtual pitch offered to us through Faces of Football.”