The joy of football for all is being demonstrated by disabled athletes as they show their footballing acumen at special showcase matches ahead of this week's UEFA EURO 2012 quarter-finals in Poland and Ukraine
The games in Warsaw, Gdansk, Donetsk and Kyiv are part of UEFA's Respect Inclusion projects to promote the integration of disabled players and fans into football. Four matches are being staged 90 minutes before the quarter-finals. The first of the games took place ahead of the encounter between Czech Republic and Portugal at the National Stadium in Warsaw last night, and featured athletes with intellectual disabilities from Special Olympics Poland.
"The actions taken by us within the framework of the Respect Inclusion Project are aimed at drawing public attention to disabled sports, and to expressing support and respect for their efforts," explained Bogusław Gałązka, national director of Special Olympics Poland.
The players themselves were overjoyed at being able to display their undoubted ability in a high-profile setting. "We are pleased that we can show ourselves at the National Stadium," said Daniel Kazimierczak. "Our disability in no way prevents us from playing sport. For me, the most important thing in football is just the satisfaction and opportunity to represent my region at tournaments or at such games like this. It is a huge honour. We are proud to have been selected for this match."
"To think especially that a few days earlier, Poland played on the same pitch, and that stars such as Cristiano Ronaldo or Petr Čech are running out on to the pitch after us," added Miłosz Marcinkowski."An additional attraction is the presence in our teams of celebrities like Cezary Pazura and Roman Kosecki. To play such a game is a wonderful experience."
The showcase events go on with a five-a-side game for blind and partially-sighted players from the CROSS association at the Arena Gdansk tonight, before the quarter-final between Germany and Greece. CAFE's partner in Ukraine – the National Association of People with Disabilities – is staging a seven-a-side game for deaf players at the Donbass Arena in Donetsk on Saturday, and the Olympic Stadium in Kyiv hosts a seven-a-side game for players with locomotive disabilities such as cerebral palsy on Sunday.
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