The UEFA Respect Inclusion project showcase games have provided splendid pre-match entertainment ahead of the UEFA EURO 2012 quarter-finals. Last night saw the fourth and final match featuring players with locomotive disabilities, including cerebral palsy.
Two teams comprising players aged between 11 and 16, Ukraine Hope and Little Stars, fought out an exciting 2-2 draw as the curtain-raiser to the match between England and Italy at the Olympic Stadium in Kyiv.
UEFA's project partner in Ukraine has been the National Sports Committee for the Disabled of Ukraine (NSCDU). The aim is to provide a platform for children with different disabilities to display their sporting skills – thereby raising public awareness that these young sportsmen and women are themselves an integral component of society and should not be excluded.
Over the last two years, children from across Ukraine with different disabilities have been invited to join training camps. In these camps, the youngsters have been taught the basics of football and trainers have started working on their technical skills. Mini-tournaments were held at the centre for Paralympic activities in Yevpatoriya, Crimea, and the winning teams – 'Nadiia Ukrainy' (Ukraine Hope) and 'Malenki Zironky' (Little Stars) – contested last night's showcase game.
"This is a match taking place in Kyiv, but it is an example for the whole country that disabled sports can take place anywhere," said Valeriy Sushkevich, president of the NSCDU.
The players themselves enjoyed an unforgettable moment in the spotlight. "I felt huge emotions on the pitch," said Little Stars' team member Vadim Khorolsky. "I had plenty of good feelings on the pitch," added Ukraine Hope player Nazar Goida. "I unfortunately could not score as I had hoped, but I will remember this match for the rest of my life."
"It was a great pleasure to play such a match in such excellent conditions, and this will be a huge boost for the football played by these youngsters," said Little Stars coach Kostiantyn Pasichnyk.
In terms of long-term development, such activities provide excellent promotion for youngsters with disabilities, raising awareness that they can practise many different sports. Ukraine is already very active in this respect, having won numerous titles and championships in recent international events and competitions.
The success of such athletes with disabilities gives hope to hundreds of thousands of other people with disabilities; their joy is shared all over the world and their achievements capture everyone's imagination. The UEFA Respect Inclusion project has proved an invaluable catalyst in helping to create such joy.
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