A Unified Youth Basketball Tournament will be held in October ©Special Olympics

Special Olympics has announced the launch of the European Unified Youth Basketball Tournament, with the first edition expected to take place next year at Sansepolcro in Italy.

Special Olympics says the tournament, held in October, will see male and female players with and without intellectual disabilities compete over four days.

In total, 24 teams from around Europe will take part in the tournament, which is part of a year-long project awarded funding by the Erasmus+ Programme of the European Union (EU).

The launch of the project coincided with the International Day of Persons with Disabilities on December 3.

“As 2020 draws to a close, we are excited to bring this platform to the athletes of Special Olympics, their coaches and families,” said David Evangelista, President and managing director of Special Olympics Europe Eurasia.

“This tournament—the first of its kind—will provide an opportunity to train, and engage, as we look to a more hopeful 12 months ahead.

“Our athletes and communities have shown tremendous resilience throughout the current pandemic, and like the global community, they are eager to reengage and restore the social connections that come through grassroots sport.

“As part of our shared commitment to social inclusion worldwide, there is no better way to stay connected, both physically and virtually, than through Unified Sports.”

Organisers say athletes and coaches will have the opportunity to build the teams, improve skills with a variety of kick-off events over the coming months, as well as regular training sessions, workshops and seminars.

Special Olympics says a key aim is to expand the Unified Sports concept, where players with and without intellectual disabilities train and compete side by side.

A particular focus is for basketball players aged 14 to 30 years.

The 24 teams will come from countries across Europe, ranging from Finland to Cyprus.

Special Olympics say 24 teams will compete in the tournament ©Special Olympics
Special Olympics say 24 teams will compete in the tournament ©Special Olympics

“Today we look with a new sense of hope at our new goal for 2021: hosting the European Unified Youth Basketball Tournament,” said Fulvio Prono, Special Olympics Italy basketball player.

“It’s a great opportunity to get back on the court and take back what this tragic global health emergency has stolen from us.

“Getting to play together again, rejoice, smile and hug each other means taking back our lives and being able to keep on dreaming.”

The tournament will take place as part of Special Olympics Europe Eurasia’s annual flagship basketball event, European Basketball Week.

The week is supported by partners, FIBA Europe and Euroleague Basketball One Team.

This year’s focus was on what people can do from their home, as well as Unified Youth Basketball and 3x3 Basketball.

Participants were encouraged to take advantage of online training opportunities and connect with fellow basketballers across the region digitally through Special Olympics Europe Eurasia social media accounts using the hashtag #EverythingCounts and #EBW2020.

Special Olympics says a key legacy of the tournament will be the creation of 70 Unified youth basketball teams in 15 European countries that will go on to regularly train and compete together.

This is expected to provide each country a far wider pool of Unified players for future pan-European and international events, such as Special Olympics World Games in Berlin in 2023.