MLS WORKS, Major League Soccer’s community outreach initiative, today announced a partnership with Special Olympics to bring soccer, the world’s most popular sport, to more athletes with intellectual disabilities.
The partnership will leverage the strength of Major League Soccer to promote awareness, respect, inclusion and acceptance of Special Olympics athletes throughout the soccer community.
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 in Special Olympics in North America.
Currently, 56,000 Special Olympics athletes in the United States and Canada participate in soccer. Special Olympics hopes to double that number.
Unique to this partnership is an exchange program for Special Olympics Unified Sports soccer teams, which are teams comprised of players both with and without intellectual disabilities.
These Special Olympics Unified Sports soccer teams, supported by their respective home-state MLS clubs, will not only receive training from their own MLS players and coaches, but will also travel to other MLS markets to train alongside their Special Olympics counterparts.
In addition to training sessions, the Unified teams will also compete in a game as part of the exchange program. These Special Olympics Unified Sports soccer matches, scheduled in conjunction with MLS home games, will be played between the two Unified teams clad in their respective MLS clubs’ uniforms.
Special Olympics Colorado athlete Mackenzie Beauvais-Nikl was appointed captain of the Special Olympics Colorado Rapids All-Star team during one such exchange game.
As captain, Beauvais-Nikl says she tries to impart the values of teamwork and perseverance: “I’ve learned to be a team leader and to be supportive. I say to them: ‘Try it again, don’t give up and don’t walk away from it.’”
The exchange program not only provides Special Olympics athletes with top-level training and competitive experiences, but also offers MLS fans an opportunity to witness the talents and abilities of Special Olympics soccer players first-hand.
“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,” said Bob Gobrecht, President and Managing Director of Special Olympics North America. Gobrecht added, “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.”
“Through our Don’t Cross the Line campaign, MLS has made a formal commitment to diversity and inclusion at all levels of the game,” said JoAnn Neale, Chief Administrative Officer at MLS. “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.”
While many MLS clubs have relationships with their local Special Olympics Programs, including Unified teams supported by Portland Timbers FC, New York Red Bulls, New England Revolution, and FC Dallas this season, the Colorado Rapids and Seattle Sounders FC have been instrumental in growing the Special Olympics Unified Sports soccer exchange program.
“The pioneer programs in Colorado and Seattle have shown what a profound impact this collaboration can have on awareness and involvement in Special Olympics Unified Sports soccer programing. Their commendable dedication to this campaign has set a high standard and we look forward working closely with Special Olympics to replicate that success in MLS markets across North America,” said Neale.
About Major League Soccer
Headquartered in New York City, Major League Soccer is the top-flight professional soccer league in the United States and Canada. MLS features many stars from the U.S., Canada, and around the world. Major League Soccer’s 18th season features 19 clubs, each playing 34 regular-season matches. Those clubs include the Chicago Fire; Chivas USA; Colorado Rapids; Columbus Crew; D.C. United; FC Dallas; Houston Dynamo; 2012 MLS Cup champion LA Galaxy; Montreal Impact; New York Red Bulls; New England Revolution; Philadelphia Union; Portland Timbers; Real Salt Lake; San Jose Earthquakes; Seattle Sounders FC; Sporting Kansas City; Toronto FC and Vancouver Whitecaps FC. New York City FC was unveiled May 21, 2013. For more information about MLS, log on to the league’s official website at www.MLSsoccer.com.
About MLS WORKS
MLS WORKS is Major League Soccer’s community outreach initiative dedicated to addressing important social issues and serves as a platform for both League and club philanthropic programs. MLS WORKS seeks to establish Major League Soccer as a leader for improving the lives of people through sport. For more information visit the website at www.MLSsoccer.com/mlsworks or follow us on Twitter (@MLSWORKS).