UEFA's long and fruitful partnership with the Special Olympics Europe Eurasia (SOEE) movement has been fully evident at the Special Olympics European Summer Games Warsaw 2010.
European football's governing body was represented at the opening ceremony of the games taking place in the Polish capital between 18 and 24 September – and has taken a special interest in the widely subscribed female football event.
Nineteen women's football teams have been competing in a seven-a-side tournament at the Bemowo Football Centre, under the gaze of such famous names as Johan Cruyff and Steffi Jones, a FIFA Women's World Cup winner with Germany in 2003.
More than 180 women have participated in the tournament while getting involved in the various other sporting and cultural activities, including a health screening programme, which accompany the games.
"The games in Warsaw are an excellent opportunity for the football community to come together and do something to create more opportunities for people with intellectual disabilities in football," said Mary Davis, managing director of SOEE. "We enjoy great support from UEFA as well as the Polish Football Federation to ensure the success of the event."
SOEE is placing particular emphasis this year on developing women's football within the movement, given the game's role as a tool for breaking down barriers between people with and without intellectual disabilities. Steffi Jones, who attended the opening ceremony along with Johan Cruyff, said: "When you play football, it does not matter where you come from or what you look like. We all share the same passion."
UEFA officials, together with Polish Football Federation (PZPN) president Grzegorz Lato and senior officials from the world football body FIFA, were present at the opening of the European Summer Games on 18 September at the new Legia Football Stadium.
Polish president Bronisław Komorowski, and Lech Wałęsa, one of his predecessors, also helped to inaugurate a showpiece gathering which has involved more than 1,600 athletes with an intellectual disability from 58 countries, as well as 1,000 coaches, officials and over 1,500 family members.
Football is the most popular of the 31 official sports offered by SOEE with a total of 112,000 registered players across Europe and Eurasia. The number of registered female footballers has grown from 5,000 in 2003 to 21,000 today.
SOEE has figured prominently in UEFA's social responsibility strategy since 1998, and through this core partnership with the European governing body it continues to achieve significant progress towards the expansion of football opportunities for people with intellectual disabilities.
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