Play Unified, Live Unified

June 12, 2013

Europe's most inclusive football event brings 200 young people with and without intellectual disabilities to compete together on the same teams.

EUT_Poland

Play Unified to Live Unified!

And out of 12 there were six. After an exciting and thrilling UEFA endorsed Special Olympics European Unified Football Tournament, six European Unified Football teams have qualified to go through to the 2014 Special Olympics Unified Cup to take place in Rio de Janeiro.

France, Poland (host), Romania, Russia, Serbia and Slovakia have qualified out of what was surely the most inclusive football event in Europe this year and took place in Warsaw Poland from June 5th to 9th. The tournament brought together 200 young footballers with and without intellectual disabilities from 12 different countries cheered on by UEFA and national federations representatives, football stars, fans and government officials, diplomats and community leaders.

The precept behind Special Olympics’ Unified Sports is that by training and competing on the same team athletes with intellectual disabilities and teammates without, have opportunities to develop their skills furthers while creating friendships that will break down the barriers to inclusion and equal opportunity.

For one French teammate playing helps him to live unified: “I want to share my passion for football and what I am good at. I love my team and we all need to work together and respect each other to be successful”.   Another team mate from Slovakia explained why he plays on a Unified Team: “I like the spirit of the team, we simply like each other and we want to play together”.

UEFA, football stars and legends including Michał Żewłakow (Legia Warsaw), Christian Karambeu (France), and former Poland players Andrzej Szarmach and Roman Kosecki, were there to lend their support to the athletes.  According to Żewłakow:  “Last year we had a great chance to experience EURO 2012. This event has been similarly unforgettable”.

With much of the action played out in Legia Warsaw Stadium, teams were divisioned into three groups with each group comprising of four teams, after the first group matches. Following some impressive football, Serbia won against Romania 2:1 and France beat Slovakia 4:2 Russia qualified in fifth place beating Hungary 7:0. As host Poland qualified directly through to the world tournament.

What set this tournament apart from other such competitions is that results on the score board were not the only qualifying factor. Teams were also judged on their ability to demonstrate a unified team spirit on and off the pitch as well as follow UEFA’s fair play ethos.

From the moment that the teams entered the Opening Ceremony in Torwar Hall to Samba rythms and accompanied by mesmerizing samba dancers, a colourful Brazlian theme vibrated throughout the tournament infusing the athletes with the extra energy and inspiration needed.

And much energy was needed as the European tournament had a full programme of activities. On the first day of the tournament athletes, team mates and supporters were invited to take part in a Unified Sports workshop which allowed players and coaches to talk about their experiences and learn more about how to diversity their training sessions and involve players in their leadership.

On day two Special Olympics athletes were encouraged to demonstrate their persons best during the finals by their football heroes Legia Warsaw defender Michał Żewłakow and French international star Christian Karembeu at an Athlete Leadership Conference.

Earlier this year Special Olympics Europe Eurasia identified 12 National Programmes offering establish and effective Unified Sports programmes and invited them to put forward a team to participate in the European Unified Tournament. The teams put forward were: Austria, France, Germany, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Romania, Russia, Serbia, Slovakia, Turkey.

ENDS


Karembeu

French international star Christian Karembeu

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