The experiences of the female Unified football squad bound for Chicago have been extraordinary and profound since they first met with many lessons for all of us in what it truly means to be inclusive.
Playing alongside Special Athletes at the first training Camp held in March 2018 was a first for most of the 5 Unified Partners. After the first day, a sceptical Unified Partner went back home telling her parents, ‘We will be playing with people who are different- how would that happen’? Another said, ‘I was trying to shout out to the Athlete for a pass but she couldn’t hear!’. Similarly, an Athlete expressed discomfort to her Coach at the thought of having to play with ‘superior’ players. All this, while grappling with the language barrier as India is multilingual.
As Mr Victor R Vaz, National Sports Director said, “The Unified layout is new to the Partners. It is not easy for them to change overnight. The process has to be gradual while encouraging them too. They have their own type of game and this format challenges them to change their perspective. It begins with understanding the Athlete”
As the players gathered for the 4th training Camp, their growing teamwork was evident. They were coordinated, with partners and athletes communicating well. As Vanshika (Unified Partner) said, ‘ I have learnt patience. In fact I have learnt the sign language which helped me at a restaurant few days back!” and Bharti speaks of learning to follow instructions of the Coach instantly.
‘Sometimes it takes only one loose ball’, is what Mr Simon Koh, President and Managing Director, Asia Pacific Region, had to say based on an experience in Singapore where a ball rolled to the other side and unified two clearly separated groups of Unified partners and Athletes.
While watching the 2018 FIFA world Cup together, the team discussed the goals, strategies, learnings that they could replicate. As Linda (unified partner) says, this won’t end with the event. Would be excited to play again with them.”. Upon hearing this Mr Victor R Vaz, heaves a sigh of relief and speaks aloud, “Yes! They make a great team”.