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The FA and Special Olympics join forces

Tue 13th Dec 2011 | Football Club Administration

The Football Association, England’s governing body for Football, today signed a Memorandum of Understanding with Special Olympics Great Britain, the country’s largest everyday sports training and competition programme for children and adults with learning disabilities.

The purpose of the understanding is to encourage the inclusion and grow the participation of all people with learning disabilities in the “beautiful game,” regardless of ability. 

The FA has long been a leader in disability football and in 1999 launched the country’s first national disability football programme. This was followed by a Football Development Strategy and Disability Football Strategy -- the first step in integrating disability football into the ‘mainstream’ and an integral part of The FA’s Strategic Vision and National Game Strategy. 

According to Jeff Davis, The FA National Disability Development Manager, “Both The FA and Special Olympics are committed to ensuring that anyone who wants to play CAN play, no matter of their ability level. This understanding will help to create a player pathway from local to international competition for our current and future learning disabled footballers.”

Special Olympics Great Britain is supported by The Football Association and its County’s, the Welsh Football Trust, The FA Premier League, The Professional Footballer’s Association and League Manager’s Association. Over 1800 learning disabled footballers currently participate in the national programme which provides a clear player pathway from local to national and international competitions at all ability levels. FIFA and UEFA also support Special Olympics football across the world.

Karen Wallin, Special Olympics GB Chief Executive states, “The FA’s membership will create fantastic additional competition opportunities for people with learning disabilities. Over the next three years we hope to double the number of footballers within our programme, and create an all-ability pathway from local levels upwards. Linking Special Olympics GB with County FA’s will ensure that players with learning disabilities and their supporting volunteers or coaches are given a quality experience in football.”

The Understanding was inspired by an invitation-only roundtable last year led by Premier League CEO Richard Scudamore and Lawrie McMenemy MBE, President, Special Olympics GB, to put Disability Football on the national agenda. It was attended by the Football Association, League Managers Association, Professional Footballers Association, The Tottenham Hotspur Foundation, Football League Trust, Football Foundation, Welsh Football Trust, MK Don, a Member of Parliament, Special Olympics GB Premier Partner National Grid, and others.

Highlights of the Memorandum of Understanding:

  • Establish a common vision for the future development of learning disability football within England.
  • Register current member FA footballers with a learning disability with Special Olympics GB to give them access into the Special Olympics GB competition structure, based on joint accreditation.
  • Offer all footballers with a learning disability in England, the opportunity to take part in regular learning disability specific competition at local and regional levels within England, and at national and international levels across Special Olympics GB, all banded into ability levels.
  • Further introduce Unified Football® -- an innovative football programme for athletes with learning disabilities and partners without disabilities playing on the same team.
  • Ensure each accredited Special Olympics GB football group has a minimum of one qualified FA Level 1 football coach involved in its regular training sessions.
  • Ensure each Special Olympics GB region has a minimum of 1 FA Level 2 football coach supporting regional development.

(Image. l-r: Special Olympics GB CEO Karen Wallin, Special Olympics GB President Lawrie McMenemy, and The FA National Disability Development Manager Jeff Davis)

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