Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, August 19, 2016 – The 2016 Rio Olympics may be drawing to a close but it is clear that the Copa Courts have laid the foundation for the FIVB’s long term partnership with the Special Olympics, following Thursday’s MOU signing between the two organisations.
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The Special Olympics event held on Copacabana beach on Friday, was the first to be organised under the agreement for 30 athletes with intellectual disabilities.
“It was the first time that many of the participants had played volleyball,” said Mauricio Barros, instructor of the VivaVôlei project. “I taught them some tactics, and I realised that they learnt really fast.”
The participants were also treated to a match with Special Olympics’ ambassadors Vladimir Grbic, Olympic gold medalist from Serbia, as well as Brazil’s beach volleyball legend, Jackie Silva and former gymnast, Bart Conner.
“Intellectual disability is different, there is often more prejudice against people with them,” said Silva. “They need a voice, and sports is a wonderful tool for these people.”
Grbic was equally emotional when speaking about his involvement with the Special Olympics. “I was introduced to this project 11 years ago,” he said. “One thing I can say is that they play with their hearts. In any sports, you can see the passion in their eyes, and it’s all they need.”
After the memorable game, the participants received a trophy from Conner and judo athlete and actor Breno Viola, who lives by the motto, “I want to win. If I cannot win, I want to be brave in the attempt.”
“This movement has transformed people around the world. If you get to kids and a ball, it doesn’t matter the language or the intellectual capabilities. You fell the sense of friendship and support. Sports break down all the barriers,” said Conner.
19-year-old John Silva has benefitted first hand from the programme. “I came to the project three years ago, and I didn’t talk to anybody. I was an introverted person. But I changed a lot after I started playing in the Special Olympics. I became more sociable, and the relationship with my family is much better now,” he said.
The president of Special Olympics Brazil, George Millard was amazed with the demonstration in Copacabana. “It’s not about super athletes, but about common people. We don’t want to win medals, but to play and have fun”, he said. “Approximately one to three percent of the global population has an intellectual disability, and we know how sports can help people. It’s a matter of learning. The rules of sports teaches them to be independent."