UEFA's partnership with the Special Olympics Europe Eurasia (SOEE) movement to promote opportunities for footballers with intellectual disabilities was given high-profile billing at the UEFA Champions Festival in the form of a five-a-side game.
Integration and social interaction were the buzzwords as a unified Special Olympics Great Britain team – comprising players with and without learning disabilities – took on a side representing Kick It Out, football's equality and inclusion campaign in England.
Competing on the festival's main pitch, which is covered by an arch mimicking the one under which FC Barcelona and Manchester United FC meet at Wembley, both sets of players received words of encouragement at half-time from UEFA Champions Festival ambassador Graeme Le Saux.
Jason Cornwell, football development manager for Special Olympics Great Britain, said: "The idea is to bridge the gap between learning disability football and mainstream football. UEFA's support filters down to places like the United Kingdom.
"The idea is that when the support comes down, whether this is funding, player appearances or PR, it benefits the national programme. UEFA is a massive organisation, the Special Olympics is a massive organisation, so the level of support is brilliant."
The game, as well as providing a training session for a GB women's SO team, was part of the 11th Special Olympics European Football Week held between 14 and 22 May, which attracted around 50,000 athletes during activities across 45 countries in Europe/Eurasia (western and eastern Europe, and central Asia).
As a whole, SOEE works with almost half a million athletes in 58 countries, offering year-round assistance and athletic competition in a variety of Olympic-type sports for children and adults with intellectual disabilities.
Globally, Special Olympics is thriving in more than 180 countries, giving life-changing benefits to more than 3.4 million athletes. Football is the most popular of the 31 official sports offered by SOEE.
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