Special to NYSportsJournalism.com
October 15, 2013: Special Olympics has agreed to a partnership with Major League Soccer’s community outreach initiative, MLS Works, to bring soccer to more athletes with intellectual disabilities.
The goal of the alliance is to "leverage the strength of Major League Soccer to promote awareness, respect, inclusion and acceptance of Special Olympics athletes throughout the soccer community," according to Special Olympics.
According to MLS, many league clubs have relationships with their local Special Olympics programs, including Portland Timbers FC, New York Red Bulls, New England Revolution, FC Dallas and pioneer clubs Colorado Rapids and Seattle Sounders FC.
Support from the MLS community will "help raise awareness about the opportunities available to athletes with intellectual disabilities, increasing the number of participants, coaches, and fans needed" to grow the sport of soccer within Special Olympics North America Programs.
A vital aspect of the partnership will be an exchange program for Special Olympics Unified Sports soccer teams, which are comprised of players both with and without intellectual disabilities.
Supported by their respective home-state MLS clubs, Special Olympics Unified Sports soccer teams will receive training from local MLS players and coaches and will also travel to other MLS markets to train alongside their Special Olympics counterparts.
As part of the exchange program, Special Olympics Unified Sports teams will compete in soccer matches, which will be scheduled in conjunction with MLS home games. Each game will be played between the two Unified teams clad in their respective MLS clubs’ uniforms.
“This partnership, between two global leaders in sport, represents an extraordinary opportunity to bring the sport of soccer to many more athletes, both with and without intellectual disabilities, and introduce Special Olympics to MLS fans everywhere,” Bob Gobrecht, president and managing director for Special Olympics North America, said in a statement.
Gobrecht stressed that “MLS and Special Olympics share the value of improving the lives of all people through sport, and this partnership demonstrates that Major League Soccer recognizes and respects the legitimate sport abilities, and potential, of Special Olympics athletes.”
According to JoAnn Neale, chief administrative officer for MLS, “Through our 'Don’t Cross the Line' campaign, MLS has made a formal commitment to diversity and inclusion at all levels of the game. This partnership with Special Olympics offers yet another opportunity to demonstrate that our sport accepts and welcomes all athletes and fans, including those with intellectual disabilities.”
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