08 August 2013

Story and video: FCB’s Messi and Pinto share football skills with children with disabilities to promote inclusion

Story by Nattha Keenapan
Video by Jingjai N.

BANGKOK, 7 August 2013 – Anurak Warit, a youth with learning disabilities, traveled nearly 700 kilometres from his hometown in northern Thailand to Bangkok for the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity of meeting FC Barcelona’s Lionel Messi and Jose Manuel Pinto.

“It was very exciting to meet Messi and Pinto today,” said a smiling Anurak, who was still all aglow after trying to kick a football past Pinto and having his jersey signed by football great Messi, who also serves as a UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador. The 22-year-old Anurak, a member of the Special Olympics Thailand Unified Team, which is comprised of young people with and without intellectual disabilities who train, practice and play football together, said the FCB players “encouraged us to be a good athletes and to practice hard.”

Anurak was one of 20 children and youth with intellectual disabilities to attend a FC Barcelona-UNICEF event which featured the participation of Messi and Pinto, and which was aimed at promoting social inclusion for young people with disabilities. Both Messi and Pinto took time off from their busy team tour schedule in Thailand to talk to and play football with the young people, who had all come to Bangkok from different areas of the country for the event.

Asked by one of the boys if he had ever played football with disabled children before, Messi replied that he had done so “many times” and that “it is no different than playing with any other children.”

The children on hand for the event were representative of the millions of children with disabilities across Asia, and the some 600,000 children in Thailand who have intellectual disabilities. Children with disabilities are often from poor families, face challenges due to social exclusion and lack the opportunities provided to other children.

The children and youth who attended the event participate in football and other sport training and competitions organized by Special Olympics Thailand, a non-governmental organization, with support from UNICEF. Some of the children, including Anurak, will be competing at the 2014 Global Unified Cup in Brazil being organized by the Special Olympics and FIFA to promote social inclusion and equal participation for young people with intellectual disabilities.

Speaking at the event, Dr. Isiye Ndombi, UNICEF Deputy Regional Director for the East Asia and Pacific Region, said that “children with disabilities can demonstrate remarkable abilities if they are given proper care, opportunity and support.”

Dr. Ndombi said that providing children with disabilities opportunities to compete in sports and other physical activities is extremely important, as it “can help to enhance their life-long physical and emotional development and also serves to improve their communication and social skills.”

Ramon Pont, Vice President of the FC Barcelona Foundation said the event symbolized the strong global partnership FC Barcelona and UNICEF, which is committed to providing millions of children with the opportunity to receive an education and learn positive values through an integrated programme of physical education, sports and play. Since 2006, FC Barcelona, which features the UNICEF logo on its premier football jersey, has also been providing €1.5 million annually to support the work of UNICEF.

After answering questions posed by the children, Messi and Pinto spent some time playing football with them. Messi told the children that in order to become a great football player “you have to give up a lot. If you love the game, you have to fight for it and you have to want to learn each and every day."

For the children, the experience of meeting the FC Barcelona stars will help inspire them to continue to compete in sports and -- more importantly -- to overcome obstacles in life.

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