On 30 September 2007, Special Olympics held a press conference at Shanghai's Hongkou Football Stadium to announce the launch of a new global initiative to provide greater footballing opportunities for players with intellectual disabilities: Special Olympics Global Football (SOGF).
Quick to lend their enthusiastic backing for today's launch were key figures in the international football community. The announcement coincided with the final day's action at the FIFA Women's World Cup China 2007, which also took place at the Hongkou Stadium.
FIFA's intention was to use the showpiece competition as a platform to help raise the profile and influence of the Special Olympics, with FIFA President Joseph S. Blatter and Special Olympics Chairman and CEO Timothy Shriver hailing the day's events as a "huge moment". FIFA hope to garner support for players with intellectual disabilities from people across the globe and from every walk of life.
"I would like to express my admiration for Chairman Shriver's dedicated efforts in promoting sport for intellectually disabled people. FIFA would like to use the Football for Hope Movement to get involved with and support football's development within the Special Olympics," said FIFA President Blatter.
"Within this programme, FIFA is determined to give its support to Special Olympics, whose goal is truly remarkable. I would like to encourage all football fans and others to attend the Special Olympics World Summer Games Shanghai 2007. For the Game. For the World."
FIFA lend their support
This slogan, as used by the FIFA President, is meant to reflect the football world's sense of social responsibility. The Special Olympics is the ultimate goal for some 2.5 million intellectually disabled athletes from 165 different countries, and this year's games are set to welcome around 7,500 competitors. Through sport, and the beautiful game in particular, the Special Olympics can help bring these gifted athletes and football's world governing body together behind a common goal.
"We all know playing football is practically a part of human nature. Football brings people both entertainment and passion. 'All for football, football for all', is not just a slogan. The launch of this campaign to assist players with intellectual disabilities will help people improve their health, confidence and happiness," added President Blatter.
The FIFA President's statements met with an enthusiastic response from the Special Olympics Chairman. After expressing his thanks to FIFA and Joseph S. Blatter for their support, Mr Shriver went on to add that the initiative could also help to eliminate the barriers between disabled and able-bodied people: "In supporting this campaign to help handicapped people play football we are not giving them sympathy, we are giving them enthusiastic encouragement," he said.
"Football is a team game; through this sport intellectually disabled people can strengthen their own body and soul, as well as gaining encouragement and approval from society."
Hope for those most forgotten
The Special Olympics, to be held in Shanghai from 2 to 11 October 2007, will be only the second time this event has been held outside of USA since its creation in 1968. The 7,500 athletes attending the competition are representing around 200 million disabled people around the world who, to use Timothy Shriver's words, are society's "most forgotten" group.
There are currently around 300,000 disabled athletes across the world involved in football and Shriver hopes that by the time of the 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa™, the number will have reached 400,000, with female athletes making up 30 per cent of this total. Through the Football for Hope Movement, FIFA is strongly supporting the objectives set out by the Special Olympics.
This project is being actively developed in ten African countries and will help over 3,000 young players with intellectual disabilities. On top of regular football training and competition, these up-and coming athletes will also be provided with free health screenings.