THE Special Olympics Jamaica (SOJ) male team kicked off the 2022 Unified Football Cup with a 4-0 win over Paraguay at Schoolcraft College in Michigan on Monday.
Dillion Richards scored twice for the Shane Richards-coached Jamaicans, while Ashanie Kennedy and Kyle McLeggan scored the other goals.
On the female side, the Caribbean unified footballers, comprising players from Aruba, Bahamas, Haiti and Jamaica, ended 0-0 with Slovakia, before losing 0-7 to Guatemala later on Monday. Both those matches were played at The Corner Ballpark.
Lorna Bell, the executive director of Special Olympics Caribbean Initiative and former head of SOJ, said the positive start for the male team was timely, as many former British colonies celebrated Emancipation Day on August 1.
"After such an enjoyable opening ceremony on Sunday, this was a special win for Team Jamaica as our country celebrates Emancipation Day. Our boys played well and are in good spirits and this is another great experience for our footballers who are showcasing their talents to the world," Bell said on Monday.
"The female team had a mixed day, but we're confident they will bounce back. They are also getting the exposure to international competition because this is the first time a Caribbean unified female team is participating in the Cup, and they only had one day together after arriving in Detroit," she added.
At the inaugural Unified Football Cup hosted in Chicago in 2018, Jamaica's male team had an impressive run en route to losing 0-1 to France in the division two final.
The unified sports programme, a focus of the Special Olympics movement, combines people with intellectual disabilities and those without disabilities in training and competition.
Through sport activities and competition, the Special Olympics International movement aims to break down barriers that exclude people with intellectual disabilities, such as autism and Down syndrome, from mainstream society.
The disabilities can either be acquired or genetic, and can also include cases of cerebral palsy, traumatic brain injury, and some cases of developmental delay.
— Sanjay Myers