On July 9, in the 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia™ Football Park on Red Square Naked Heart Foundation, helping children with special needs, and the Coca-Cola System in Russia organised a unified football match to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Special Olympics. The match united athletes with mental disabilities, the world-famous football players Lothar Matthäus, Laurent Blanc, as well as famous Russian athletes and showbiz representatives. The celebrity team was put together by four-time Olympic medallist and the 2018 FIFA Wolrd CupTM Ambassador for Sochi Evgeni Plushenko and producer Yana Rudkovskaya, and the famous Russian footballer Aleksander Mostovoi acted as the coach. The founder of the Naked Heart Foundation and Special Olympics Board Member Natalia Vodianova, governmental officials and representatives of Coca-Cola System in Russia also took part in the game.
The goal of the unified match is to show that all people, regardless of their mental, sensor or physical disabilities, should have equal opportunities and that sport, such as football, has a unique uniting power and can serve as a tool for developing inclusive society. Holding the unified match in the heart of Russia, the organisers strived to draw public attention to the problems of people with special needs and to provide a showcase example of the need to create an accepting environment for them across Russia.
The players of the unified match included Lothar Matthäus, Laurent Blanc, Geremi Njitap, Nuno Gomes, Thomas Berthold, Julio Baptista, Faryd Camilo Mondragon, Evgeni Plushenko, Pavel Volya, Dmitri Bulykin, Alexey Nemov, Polina Kitsenko and many others. The commentator of the event was Georgy Cherdantsev.
The game was transmitted live at Naked Heart VK.com page.
The match celebrated the 50th anniversary of the Special Olympics. Its mission is to organize a yearlong sports program for children and adults with mental or physical disabilities. Participation in the Special Olympics provides with continuing opportunities for improving health, demonstrating courage, interacting with other participants, exchanging experience and sharing memorable moments with them.
For 50 years the Special Olympics has been changing the perception of people with mental disabilities all over the world, whilst in Russia since 2004 Naked Heart Foundation has been working on development a network of free support services for families raising children with special needs. The mission of Naked Heart Foundation is to help build an inclusive society that is open to people with autism, Down syndrome, cerebral palsy and other special needs.
Coca-Cola has been the Founding Partner and a Global Sponsor of Special Olympics since 1968. For the anniversary, The Coca-Cola Foundation contributed a donation of 250 000$ to the Unified Life movement by Special Olympics. It will help athletes with special needs prepare for the Special Olympics Russia completions, resulting in the increased number of participants of the competitions. It will become an important contribution to development of an inclusive society in Russia through sports and creation of free opportunities for everybody.
Since 2015, the Coca-Cola System has been collaborating with the Naked Heart Foundation and contributing to a barrier-free environment in Russia. In the run-up to the 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia™ the Coca-Cola System in Russia launched a national #Readyto #OpenHearts inclusive initiative, aimed at drawing maximum attention to the problem of social isolation of people with special needs in Russia and to help them realize their unlimited potential. It will become part of Coca-Cola’s long-term legacy after the end of the world championship.
Founder of Naked Heart Foundation and Special Olympics International Board Member, Natalia Vodianova:
“The unified match is much more than just a game. It’s a win for all participants, as the key thing here is not the number of scored goals but the absence of barriers and stigma. People with special needs can be professional athletes and achieve amazing results just as their typically developing peers can. And I’m grateful to all our partners for this unique opportunity to hold this event in the heart of Russia, on the Red Square, as this truly proves that inclusion in sport can be a reality. We should not stop here but strive to achieve equality and inclusion in other areas of our life too to play unified”
Deputy of State Duma of the Russian Federation, president of Special Olympics Russia Jury Smirnov: “As the president of the Special Olympics Russia I congratulate all the athletes and participants of the unified match which took place on the Red square in Moscow today. I am happy that our athletes are part of the international football fest. The emotions we had are a blessing and will make us move forward for children with special needs. And to not give up despite any difficulties”.
Mickael Vinet, General Manager of 2018 FIFA World Cup™ Project of the Coca-Cola System in Russia: “As the Founding Partner of the Special Olympics, Coca-Cola has been supporting inclusive sport all over the world since 1968. However, now, during the 2018 FIFA World Cup™, it is particularly beneficial to attract public attention to the uniting force of football, the game where everybody has equal opportunities to play and realize your potential! We are happy to develop an inclusive society in Russia and to involve thousands of people from across the country in this process”.
Since October 2017 Coca-Cola has organized 11 unified football matches – in Vladivostok, Volgograd, Ekaterinburg, Kazan, Kaliningrad, Nizhny Novgorod, Rostov-on-Don, Samara, Saint Petersburg, Saransk and Sochi. They united more than 6900 players and spectators throughout the country.
Other important areas of the #Readyto #OpenHearts initiative are integration of teens with special needs into the mundial matches as flagbearers and coin toss within the FIFA Youth Program as well as creation of inclusive facilities in 11 Russian cities. Together with the Naked Heart Foundation and with the city administrations’ support, Coca-Cola creates inclusive playparks with football pitches so that kids and teens with and without special needs could play together.
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