Football is for all – and two teams of players with hearing impairments showed their love of the game by playing a seven-a-side match under UEFA's Respect Inclusion project ahead of the UEFA EURO 2012 quarter-final between Spain and France at the Donbass Arena in Donetsk last night.
The match was one of four being held before each EURO quarter-final. Special Olympics and blind or partially sighted players took the stage in Warsaw and Gdansk. Now Ukraine is taking up the baton with last night's activities and a game featuring players with locomotive difficulties before this evening's last quarter-final between England and Italy at the Olympic Stadium in Kyiv.
UEFA's partner for the realisation of this project is the National Sports Committee for the Disabled of Ukraine (NSCDU). The goal is to give children with different disabilities a platform on which they can display their sporting abilities. This should help raise consciousness that these players should not be excluded, but are an integral part of today's society.
Over the last two years, children from across Ukraine, aged under 15 and with different disabilities, were invited to join training camps. In these camps, the youngsters were taught the basics of football and trainers started working on their technical skills.
Mini-tournaments took place in the centre for Deaflympic activities in Yevpatoriya, Crimea, and the winning teams – Mriia and Zorya – earned the opportunity to play in Donetsk last night. Participants were proud of their efforts. "It was a dream come true, a memory which I will keep forever," said 15-year-old Andrii Iedynak from the Mriia team.
"It was a good game with a good result, even if the start was difficult because everybody was nervous and excited," added Iaroslav Bezruk from the Zorya side – a footballer since the age of three – who went on to express his dream to play for the Ukrainian national team.
As of today, about 2,300 adults and 1,500 children in Ukraine with different disabilities are playing football, and it is felt strongly that such showcase games only help increase these numbers.
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