The Special Olympics has long been focused on accepting people from all walks of life and celebrating the human spirit, but a recent event in Cyprus highlighted the organization’s focus on including another group of athletes: refugees.
Europe’s and Refugees
The topic is heated throughout Europe, but for children from countries like Syria, Somalia, Yemen, and Iraq, being able to join together to play a simple game of floorball was a dream come true. The Special Olympics Cyprus Unified Floorball match took place in Larnaca on May 12 and celebrated everything the Special Olympics stands for: inclusion, celebration, and respect.
From the outside, the match looked like a typical floorball match with children of all nationalities and abilities, but it stood for so much more. Many refugee children have faced unimaginable trials and difficulties from a young age. Perhaps no one can better understand the plight and difficulties of refugee children than Special Olympics participants who have also faced physical difficulties and discrimination from a young age and simply want a place where they can have fun and be included.
“We are really glad to be here. We just want to play,” said Houda, a 14-year old political refugee from Yemen. “We hope we can do this often.”
Refugees is a Hot Topic
The treatment of refugees can be a hot-button political issue, but for a few hours all sides could agree on one thing: the need for social integration of refugee youth through the EU. Sports is a great way to bring together children from all walks of life and to find common ground between people with different believes and backgrounds.
“For centuries, throughout the course of human history, people with intellectual disabilities have always been the beneficiaries of service. The targets of inclusion,” said Eleni Rossides, National Director of Special Olympics Cyprus. “Today, what is so clear is that just as our athletes long to be included, they also long to include.”
Enjoying Floorball and Future Sport Activities
The athletes didn’t seem to care where the refugees were from—they simply saw new friends. After the floorball match, the athletes compared medals and laughed together. Many athletes and refugees expressed wanting to make the match a recurring event, with refugees even asking if they could play in more floorball matches or basketball games.
“We live in an ever-more complicated world,” said Constantinos Michaelides, President of the Cyprus National Olympic Committee. “We are honored to work with Special Olympics athletes, and our local reception center, to show the true power of sport. I am proud of every single youth on that field. Each have overcome significant barriers, and each have joined hands together. What a lesson for this world.”
The Special Olympics has been a hallmark to the world of inclusion and dignity since its creation nearly 50 years ago, and the recent inclusion of refugees takes the movement to a new level that can hopefully be repeated around the world.