According to the latest studies, at up to 50% of the world's population is introverted, ranging from needing some alone time to having social anxiety. Would you have guessed that football legend Didier Drogba falls in the category? Now 41, the Ivorian became a Global Ambassador for Special Olympics last year.
Drogba, regarded as the greatest ever Chelsea player together with two-time World Cup winner Cafu, also a global ambassador for Special Olympics, became part of the Unified Sports experiences of the Special Olympics World Games in Abu Dhabi. They both retired from football but are committed to continue uniting people from all around the world.
Unified on the Pitch
It happened on a warm, surprisingly rainy Friday in Abu Dhabi. Cafu and Drogba played against each other in a 7-a-side football match, alongside athletes with and without intellectual disabilities.
The referee blows his whistle for the first time, and fans start cheering. Five minutes later, Drogba delivers a perfect cross to his teammate, who opens the score. The former striker asks his teammates to join him, then he goes directly to the corner flag, celebrating the goal just like he did so many times during his days in the Premier League.
“Doing sports makes you healthier, more confident. Even me, football helped me so much. I was an introvert, and I could only express my feelings and my emotions when I was playing. That is what is happening to these athletes,” Drogba said.
Playing with an Idol
Rokiatou Doumbia, 25, is one of them. Just like Didier Drogba, she comes from Ivory Coast and football is her life.
“I am very, very happy I played with Didier Drogba. He is an idol for the entire nation,” Rokiatou Doumbia told AIPS, after scoring a brace in the match that ended with a 3-3 draw. “Without a doubt, sport, in general, is a great tool to unify and include communities, and football in particular”, said Cafu, who became a Special Olympics Global Ambassador in 2018. Following his retirement from football, the former world champion set up Cafu Foundation, a non-profit school and football academy that helps almost 1,000 children in Brazil. Cafu and Drogba will be joined at the Special Olympics World Games by fellow legend Romario who will also play a Unified match at at Zayed Sports City, inspiring athletes and fans alike.
“It is amazing to see these people smiling. I’ve been working with kids for several years, and I know how important it is for them to be here. What impresses me most about them is that they don’t care about the result. All they want is to be together, to laugh, to dance, while doing what they love,” added Cafu, who is still the only player to have appeared in three consecutive World Cup finals, winning the 1994 and 2002 editions of the tournament.
During the Special Olympics World Games athletes will have the chance to show off their sporting skills alongside a number of football legends, NFL players and Olympians at Special Olympics World Games Abu Dhabi 2019 as part of a series of Unified Sports Experiences.
What is Unified Sports?
Introduced in Special Olympics Bharat (India) in 1980, Unified Sports was played in selected states over the years. Dedicated to promoting social inclusion through shared sports training and competition experiences, Unified Sports joins people with and without intellectual disabilities on the same team.
This article was produced as part of the AIPS Young Reporters Programme at the Special Olympics World Games Abu Dhabi 2019, generously supported by the Lions Clubs International Foundation (LCIF).