Special Olympics football teams ready to fire in Berlin – Jamaica Observer

HEIDELBERG, Germany — Shane Richards, head coach of the Special Olympics Jamaica (SOJ) football teams, is pleased with how players reacted in Wednesday’s training, their first on-field session since arriving in this Central European country on Monday.
The Jamaican footballers, fine-tuning for the June 17-25 Special Olympics World Summer Games in Berlin, engaged in a light morning practice for roughly an hour at a multi-purpose field adjacent to their then base in Heidelberg, southern Germany.
“It was good for the players to get out, to stretch and to play football after the long travel. For the coaching staff, most of what we planned we were able to carry out. We’re just glad we got that opportunity to get loose a little before the start of the Games,” the coach told the Jamaica Observer on the eve of Thursday’s bus ride north to Berlin ahead of the opening ceremony on Saturday.
Along with athletics, swimming, badminton and unified volleyball, the SOJ delegation comprises a women’s football team and a men’s unified football outfit, both for seven-a-side competition.
Richards said the teams boast players with experience, some of whom competed in hugely successful engagements at consecutive editions of the Unified Football Cup tournaments in the United States and also at the previous Summer Games, which was staged in the United Arab Emirates.
“From the 2022 Unified Cup in Detroit we have retained some athletes and some of these players would have returned from the World Games in 2019 and the Unified Cup in Chicago in 2018.
“We have a good mixture of players, so that means we have experience and youth and we also have people who have that knowledge to get us into the championship round,” he said, noting the men’s team will have to adjust after previously thriving in 11-a-side action.
“We are confident — there’s a no team that leaves Jamaica to go overseas just to participate. We want to win like the other team… we’re looking to do our best, both male and female teams. We had some practice leading up to our departure and the teams played well. I think we basically got what we wanted from the group, it was really solid,” he added.
While both teams starred with medal-winning performances at the 2019 Special Olympics, the men have been particularly outstanding in the Unified Cup, winning silver in division two in Chicago, and gold in the top division four years later in Detroit.
The SOJ football coach, who was in charge of the men’s team in Detroit, believes those successes have put the bullseye on their backs.
“Winning the Unified Cup brings pressure — winning the Unified Cup — because we have just won it means other teams will be going at us with everything they have got,” Richards explained.
Special Olympics is a global organisation that provides year-round training and athletic competition in a variety of sports for children and adults with intellectual disabilities.
The intellectual disabilities can either be acquired or genetic, and can include cases of cerebral palsy, Down syndrome, autism, and traumatic brain injury.
The unified sports programme brings people with and without intellectual disabilities together on the same team during competition.
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