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
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.