A step in the right direction for the inclusion of athletes with intellectual disabilities


SPECIAL Olympics is a  global sport for development organization that operates in over 180 countries and serves over 7 million athletes with intellectual disabilities. 

We are the largest amateur sporting federation in the world and we are the largest public health provider for people with intellectual disabilities in the world!

In South Africa, we operate in all 9 provinces and we are proud to say that we currently serve over 57 000 athletes!

An important point to note is that athletes with an intellectual disability in South Africa are completely excluded from mainstream sports and competition opportunities. 

They do not have the same access to facilities, trained coaches, support and opportunities as their mainstream counterparts. 

This is why Special Olympics South Africa is thrilled to be collaborating with IBERCUP SA.  We are happy to see them honouring IBERCUP’s pledge to develop youth football in the countries it operates in, no matter what a child’s social-economic standing, race, colour, gender or medical challenges.

Michael Bender, the CEO of IBERCUP South Africa is a long-time supporter of the Special Olympics and he is well aware of the capabilities of our athletes. He knows that if they are given the opportunity, they can, and will, succeed!

Special Olympics is also currently the only organisation in South Africa that offers inclusive sport through our Unified Sports programme.  

The IBERCUP is the perfect opportunity for us to showcase our inclusive sports teams on a mainstream platform. Our athletes deserve the opportunity to participate and to have the focus shift from their disability to their abilities instead!

The partnership with IBERCUP SA will benefit not only our athletes, but our coaches as well. 

It will enable them to benefit from the coaching and skills development offered by international football powerhouse La Liga – an opportunity they would never have had otherwise. We are extremely excited that our coaches will receive the benefit of training with La Liga coaches and will bring that international expertise and experience back to our organisation and our athletes.

This is going to be critical in the development of our Special Olympics football and futsal leagues where both our male and female athletes will benefit.

South Africa is bidding for the 2024 Special Olympics Unified Cup and hopes to host 16 countries here for an inclusive football tournament.

We want to contribute towards opening South Africa to the world after this terrible pandemic of COVID-19.

We know that this partnership with IBERCUP SA is going to help us to prepare and to be ready to win the Unified Cup! Thanks to IBERCUP SA for recognising the potential of our athletes and for including them in this event. He has set a standard for inclusion that we sincerely hope others in sports in South Africa will follow. 

Special Olympics and the work that we do has proved to me without a shadow of a doubt,  that inclusion and acceptance can transcend any boundary, challenge any preconceived notions and any discrimination, to create a society where everyone is valued, and every achievement can be celebrated.

I know that our athletes will make us proud and I hope that for some, they will take their rightful place on the playing fields of international football. 

“Let me win. But if I cannot win, let me be brave in the attempt.” 

  • Mathews Phosa is chairperson of Special Olympics South Africa. This is an edited version of his speech at the launch of the partnership between SOSA,  IBERCUP SA and La Liga.

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