Today, Special Olympics Europe Eurasia has launched a unique online-offline activity hub and campaign called Faces of Basketball to celebrate European Basketball Week 2021 and International Day of Persons with Disabilities on 3 December. It will be available to athletes, coaches and supporters across the region in six European languages: English, French, German, Italian, Russian and Spanish.
With Europe once again the epicentre of the pandemic, the platform offers athletes who cannot attend competitions the opportunity to follow ‘Locker Room’ training videos created by Special Olympics athletes and coaches in Belgium, Italy and Romania. The hub also provides an online showcase for the 200+ local, grassroots Special Olympics activities that can safely take place across Europe. Additionally, anyone – player, coach or supporter – can show their support by creating a personalised Faces of Basketball profile card in the ‘Hall of Fame’ and sharing on their social media channels.
Why Faces of Basketball?
A 2021 study published in the New England Journal of Medicine (NEJM) Catalyst found that people with intellectual disabilities are almost six times more likely to die from COVID than the general population. The ever-evolving situation with Covid-19 in our region and worldwide means that many of our athletes still need a safe and remote way to train and interact with coaches and peers which does not expose them to the virus.
The Covid-19 pandemic has had a devastating impact on the six million Special Olympics athletes around the world. In 2020, there was a more than 40% drop in the numbers of athletes engaged and able to access Special Olympics sport training and competition – that’s a decrease of 2.5 million globally and of 100,000 in Europe.
Impact on athletes
Petrisor Ionut Catalin, a Special Olympics Romania basketball player, felt the loss of connection with Special Olympics in-person at the height of the pandemic. He says, “It was hard that I couldn’t go out anymore, I didn’t meet my friends at competitions and I didn’t do sports anymore.” Valerie Geluykens and Tamara Medarts, a Unified Coaching Pair from Belgium, also missed face-to-face sports training and competition during lockdown. Valerie says, “We both missed basketball: being able to do sport, other than walking, biking or running… but also the team: as a player and as a coach. During Covid, the world got so much smaller.”
Special Olympics President and Managing Director, David Evangelista, states, “The COVID pandemic has deepened the isolation and marginalization of our athletes and individuals with intellectual disabilities both globally and here in Europe Eurasia. Many have lost a vital lifeline to sport. Our Faces of Basketball provides a key platform to re-engage athletes in a way that is safe, sustainable and fun- blending physical play with virtual connection.” David continues, “People with intellectual disabilities are six times more likely to die from COVID than the general population, so a ‘return to play’ strategy is not a simple proposition for a population subset at this level of risk- but through their leadership our movement perseveres, thrives and is ready to get back in the game.”
International Day of Persons with Disabilities (IDPD) on 3 December
Faces of Basketball, supported by Lions Clubs International Foundation and Toyota, is a way to increase the visibility of people with intellectual disabilities on International Day of Persons with Disabilities, 3rd December 2021. Those who have become less visible than ever since the pandemic can take part and feel inspired by the athletes from across the region who front the campaign. Tamara Medarts, Special Olympics Belgium, Lorenzo Mancino, Special Olympics Italy and Petrisor Ionut Catalin, Special Olympics Romania are bringing visibility to our movement and their fellow athletes through their participation in the ‘Locker Room’ online video training sessions.