DUBLIN, May 2, 2017 - Some of football’s biggest names have pledged their support for Special Olympics annual European Football Week. Spanish national team football coach and Global Ambassador for Special Olympics Julen Lopetegui, Juventus and Italy star Gianluigi Buffon, and Bayern Munich and Polish international Robert Lewandowski, have all given their backing to the European wide football event, which promotes inclusion for athletes with intellectual disabilities.
The goal of this year’s European Football Week is to encourage more children, those with and without intellectual disabilities, to play Unified football and in doing so promote a healthy and active lifestyle. Across the Europe Eurasia region 45,000 athletes will participate in 450 events across 50 countries. Football Week is supported by UEFA and national football federations and clubs.
In an exclusive video message to celebrate Football Week, which runs from May 27th to June 4th, Juventus legend Buffon spoke of his belief in the power of football to ‘break down barriers’ and bring communities together.
“I believe everyone has the right to play on the same pitch together. That’s why I am proud to support Special Olympics European Football Week. Football also has the power to bring us together – to unify the world. Join me in cheering on all of the players taking part in Special Olympics European Football Week. Let’s change the game together!” he said.
Football is one of the most popular sports in Special Olympics. There are 135,000 registered players and 7000 coaches involved in the game across 58 European countries. The number of youth players aged 2-15 years of age stands at 40,000 and is growing. European Football Week is now in its 17th consecutive year.
Spanish national football coach Julen Lopetegui has also given his full backing to the region wide celebration. “Football is called the beautiful game. For me, football is both beautiful and powerful. Football breaks down barriers. It shatter stereotypes. Football also has the power to bring us together – to unite us. Join me in cheering on the 45,000 youths and adults, male and female, who are taking part in football events all over Europe.”
In another high-profile show of support Bayern Munich star Robert Lewandowski invited fans everywhere to get involved with Football Week. “Take the balls,” he said in a video message, “and let’s play football together!”
Across Europe, football leagues and their clubs will support players with intellectual disabilities during European Football Week. Clubs from the Italian Serie A and B, German Bundesliga, Dutch Eredivisie, Polish Ekstraklasa, Hungarian NBi-OTP Bank, the Spanish La Liga and the English Premier League are just some of the big name leagues getting involved.
Peter Gilliéron, Chairman, UEFA Fair Play and Social Responsibility Committee, commented: “UEFA is delighted to be involved in the annual Special Olympics European Football Week since 2000. We are committed to supporting Special Olympics football activities so that everyone, regardless of ability level, has the opportunity to enjoy football.”
An added element to the week’s activities will be the staging of the hugely important Special Olympics Young Athletes Program designed for 2 – 7 year olds. This activity is supported by MetLife Foundation, the philanthropic arm of MetLife, Inc., one of the world’s leading insurance companies. MetLife Foundation is providing funding and MetLife is generously supporting Special Olympics through employee engagement as part of the second annual Community Week across its EMEA region. Special Olympics was selected by MetLife as one of its partners for Community Week due to a shared mission to create a more inclusive world for people with intellectual disabilities through our sport and health programs.
As part of the initiative, MetLife staff will leave their offices to volunteer at Special Olympics Young Athletes, Unified Football and other sport events.
Michel Khalaf, MetLife EMEA President and MetLife Foundation Board member, said: “We are delighted to be able to build our partnership with Special Olympics. More than 750 employees in 21 markets across EMEA volunteered last year and told us that they want to do more this year. Community Week offers us all a fantastic opportunity to give something back to the communities we work in.”
These sentiments were echoed by David S. Evangelista, President and Managing Director, Special Olympics Europe Eurasia who outlined the importance of Football Week to the Special Olympics movement: “Special Olympics European Football Week – now in its 17th consecutive year - is a hugely important event on the annual Special Olympics calendar.
“This year we are working to expand Unified Football for boys and girls, by bringing together players with and without intellectual disabilities on the same team, leading to a more inclusive world for everyone. The ongoing success of Football Week is only made possible by the tremendous commitment shown by our Programme leaders, partners such as UEFA and MetLife, football federations and clubs – but most of all the dedication of our athletes.”