We just wrapped a great press conference at Athens 2011 about Unity Sports events.  Unity Sports is a series of exhibition competitions that pair people with and without intellectual disabilities to compete alongside one another on the field of play. Inspired by Unified Sports® and the Special Olympics Unity Cup Presented by Coca-Cola, the Unity Sports events provide a memorable opportunity for the athletes and guests to spotlight the importance of inclusion, sportsmanship, and friendship to the rest of the world.

Press conference participants included Michelle Kwan, Olympic medalist and Special Olympics International Board Member, Dikembe Mutombo, former NBA player, Special Olympics Team USA athletes Brittany Tagliareni and Jon Fried, and Kevin Farr, CFO of Mattel, Inc.

Special Olympics believes that paring people with all levels of abilities through sports empowers and strengthens relationships and brings equality to the world of sport and changes perceptions.

Fried and Tagliareni both agreed that participating in the Unity Sports events has been “a lot of fun” and that making new friends through these events is the best part of their experience at Athens 2011.

Mutomobo shared a great story about the impact of sports in his life. To paraphrase, he said that while growing up in Africa he was a really tall person in his village so he stood out and felt awkward, it made him different.  When he started to play sports and became a famous NBA player, he would return to his home country and was accepted and celebrated.  In short, sports gave him confidence and a place where he felt included and could thrive.  The power of that story is that it could apply to every Special Olympics athlete, or anyone who has felt ‘different’ or ‘excluded’ at some point in their lives.  I think that is what people mean when they say, “sport unites us.”

A couple more quotes from the presser are below, or you can head to our tweetstream to check out the live tweeting from the press conference to see more.

“Special Olympics is all about being included,” said Kwan. “Sports is a platform to learn dedication and discipline where you learn to never give up. You can apply those skills to all aspects of life.”

“As the largest employer of people with intellectual disabilities in the state of California, Mattel believes that inclusion, acceptance and respect are non-negotiable,” said Farr. “We believe there is no better example of inclusion and joy than Unity Sports.”

“Sports unites us,” said Mutombo. “Even in the most troubled parts of the world, sport sport brings people together.”

Check out the video below for more of what Mutombo said in his remarks at the press conference.

Below are a few photos from a Unity Sports tennis event earlier this week that Taglianeri competed in along with Coca-Cola CEO Muhtar Kent, Special Olympics Board Director Yolanda de Varela and Special Olympics President and COO Brady Lum.

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Want to see a Unity Sports event? Below is the schedule of events still remaining at Athens 2011.  The venues are in parentheses, you can learn more about the venues here.

June 28
Badminton (HFI-13:00)
Bart Conner
Nadia Comaneci

Golf (GGF-14:00)

Roller Skating (SEF-15:30)
Apolo Ohno
Michelle Kwan

June 30
Golf (GGF-14:00)

Beach Volleyball (SEF-17:00)
Adriana Behar
Vanja Grbic
Tom Hoff
Marios Giourdas
Vasso Karadassiou

July 1
Dragon Boat (SKA-12:00)
Riyo Mori

Handball (HFI-12:00)

Table Tennis (SEF-13:00)

Sailing (SSA-13:00)
Nikos Kaklamanaki
Sofia Bekatorou
Odysseas Eskitzoglou

July 2
Kayaking (SKA-12:00)

Softball (HSB-12:30)

Table Tennis (SEF-13:00)

Athletics (MOL-13:45)
Voula Patoulidou
Pauline Davis-Thompson

Volleyball (MOL-16:30)

July 3
10K (Panathenaikon-08:00)

1/2 Marathon* (Pana-08:00)
Yuko Arimori

Football (HHO-11:45)
Enrique Borja
Lucas Radebe

Bowling (BBO-13:00)

Table Tennis (SEF-13:00)

Aquatics (MAQ-15:00)
Donna de Varona
John Naber

Basketball (MBK-15:00)
Vlade Divac
Joe Jonas
Sam Perkins
Argiris Kambouris
Dikembe Mutombo

Bocce (SEF-17:30)

2 thoughts on “Celebrities and athletes share the power of Unity Sports events

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