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Football groups for girls with intellectual disabilities will open in 4 Ukrainian cities

4 November 2019

November 3, 2019, Kyiv. The United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), FC Shakhtar and NGO Special Olympics Ukraine (SOU) announce the launch of a joint football project for girls with intellectual disabilities.

For several years now, the United Nations Population Fund with the Shakhtar Social foundation have been dispelling gender stereotypes about football as a men's sport. In 2018, FC Shakhtar became the first professional football club in Ukraine to open a children's football team for girls in Kharkiv. The partners have a more ambitious goal now: to involve girls with intellectual disabilities in football, because football, like any other sport, is for all.

“Reducing gender inequality in sports is a really important thing. Last year, together with U-Report, we conducted a survey among young people: about 30% of girls consider football to be exclusively a men's sport, but at the same time, 45% of girls loved to play football in childhood. There shouldn’t be such a gender division. In the new project, we’ve taken it a step further and we want to support girls with intellectual disabilities, to give them the opportunity to play football, socialize, and develop,” says Jaime Nadal, the United Nations Population Fund representative in Ukraine.

The United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), NGO Special Olympics Ukraine, and Shakhtar Social are united by a single vision: everyone can play football, regardless of gender, physical and mental abilities.

As part of the Come On, Let’s Play project, we conduct free regular training sessions with good coaches and the necessary equipment. In our sessions, children not only physically develop but also socialize and acquire teamwork skills,” says Inna Khmyzova, Shakhtar Social director.

“Every day, thanks to sports, children with intellectual disabilities discover new talents in themselves and opportunities for success, they improve their performance, destroy barriers and prejudices. Football is the most popular team sport of Special Olympics in Europe and Eurasia among its 33 official Olympic sports. In 2016, the Ukrainian team won bronze medals at the European Football Championship within the Special Olympics. However, at the 2011 World Summer Games in Athens, the men's SOU team won gold medals.

Today, when it comes to gender equality, openness of Ukrainian society, combating stereotypes, an important component is involving girls in traditional “men's” sports. Football is one of them. Women's football is rapidly gaining momentum in the world, including in Special Olympics Ukraine. More and more girls are choosing this particular sport for its magic, speed, and popularity. It is no coincidence that this year, the Ukrainian national women's football team has won gold medals at the Special Olympics World Summer Games in Abu Dhabi. Therefore, we are launching a unique project. Girls will participate in it for free. This is the principled position of SOU. We believe that people with intellectual disabilities can succeed if we give them that chance. I am convinced that such trainings will teach girls to dream first, and then help them become purposeful; if they lose, then the trainings will help them find the strength to make another attempt and one more kick and finally reach their goal. And besides, what could be better than laughter and joy of your own victory,” said Andriy Pidvarko, Special Olympics Ukraine Executive Director.

Girls’ football teams will be created in four cities of Ukraine: Kyiv, Mariupol, Kharkiv and Ivano-Frankivsk. Four coaches and eight Come On, Let’s Play! volunteers will work with the girls based on the adapted training methodology specially developed for Disability Football.

The project was launched in Kyiv with the participation of a player from the Shakhtar football club in the modern sports hall of the Novopecherska school, where regular trainings of girls will be conducted in the future.

Master classes by professional football players in Kyiv, Kharkiv and Mariupol are also planned. Girls will be able to develop their skills and gain experience from professional players.