The Asian Football Confederation (AFC) and Special Olympics Asia Pacific (SOAP) have signed a three-year Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) to promote social inclusion through football across Asia.
The partnership will see the two organisations deliver football development programmes for athletes with intellectual disabilities in the Asia Pacific region. The MoU between the AFC and SOAP is built around the shared objectives and common commitment to raise awareness of the capabilities of athletes with intellectual disabilities and increase their access to sport and football.
The AFC will provide access to its technical resources to sports directors and volunteer coaches from Special Olympics Asia Pacific programmes in the countries where the AFC has Member Associations. This expertise will strengthen the football infrastructure of the Special Olympics Asia Pacific programmes through ongoing development opportunities for coaches, referees and other officials, increasing access to competitions and utilising the expertise of local football communities.
AFC President Shaikh Salman bin Ebrahim Al Khalifa said: “Social inclusion is one of the cornerstones of the AFC’s social responsibility strategy. This is why we are delighted to partner with Special Olympics Asia Pacific to join forces and run a joint social responsibility campaign to raise awareness of athletes with intellectual disabilities. Football is for all, irrespective of race, religion, social background, gender or ability. The AFC looks forward to joining the Special Olympics family to spread the joy of football to all.”
Special Olympics Asia Pacific’s President and Managing Director Dr John Dow said: “I am heartened and excited with our partnership with AFC. With their strong regional presence and expertise, our programs in countries affiliated to the AFC will have better capabilities to elevate the quality of football, development and access to regional level coaching educational resources. This will have a significant impact on our athletes and the AFC will be a wonderful addition to the Special Olympics family. Together, we look forward to a long and productive relationship toward empowering our athletes through football and dispelling stigma and prejudice through sports and inclusive play.”
The culmination of the partnership will be the annual Asian Football Week, to be launched in 2019. Targeting at least 20,000 football players annually and organised in over 20 countries, the event will comprise week-long football tournaments, training clinics and ‘unified sports’ where people with and without intellectual disabilities play together. Overall, the Asian Football Week will be a platform to raise awareness of social inclusion through football.