Women’s semi-final of the Special Olympics Unified Cup Detroit 2022. In an amazing, tight suspenseful game where there were 14 brilliant saves from the goalkeepers and there was brilliant pulsating football (soccer) that captured the… well then whistle blew for normal time at 1-1.
So yet again in the beautiful game, an important sudden death match went to that most cruel of concepts, a penalty shootout.
But here is the thing that I truly feel is the message and the difference between a mainstream penalty shootout, which at the highest levels has so much prestige, hype and fame attached to it, and what our events are.
Right at the end during an incredibly tense shoot out, Costa Rican athlete and midfielder Jerdine Gouldbourne had just scored potentially the match winning goal. But instead of running over to her teammates to celebrate, she went over and consoled the Egyptian goalkeeper. Like just imagine that. Here is you and your team’s moment of triumph, where you can celebrate and show yourself off to the world, but this player chose to console the opposition.
In all my years playing this beautiful game and watching it, I have never ever seen something like this. Right during a penalty shootout, that a player from one team would console with another. Sure, I have seen it happen after a shootout, but never during a shootout.
Now just to be perfectly clear, our Athletes want to win, like big time. They push themselves to exhaustion all week to achieve the ultimate, a World Championship or Gold Medal. But there is still an inherent capacity in this movement, full of a sector that has been weighed, measured and found wanting more than any other in human history, to be decent, respectful and inclusive to each other, not because they are weak or because they are not competitive, or because we are ‘disabled’ but because they compete for something more than that, a chance to become human and to matter. This is the message, and the protest Special Olympics produces at every tournament. The message is a simple one, look at what happens when we strive to ‘include?’ Imagine if the world of Elite Megastar Sport or in truth the rest of the world could come join us in that goal, and the message is simple, look what happens when people try to be kind and decent, even when they are competing.