Mission Inclusion

Lions in Cambodia believe it’s not about winning or losing, but how – and with whom – you play the game.

The organizers of the OSEAL Leo Forum 2020 teamed up with Special Olympics Asia Pacific (SOAP) and Special Olympics Cambodia to organize an afternoon of Special Olympics Unified Sports, which places individuals with intellectual disabilities on teams with those without disabilities.

Leos team up with Special Olympians to tug their way to victory at the OSEAL Leo forum.

Part of the purpose of the forum was to raise awareness of Special Olympics and its partnership with Lions. Unified Sports is the philosophy that teaming individuals with intellectual disabilities with those without intellectual disabilities is a path to friendship and understanding, so it felt natural to put those principles into practice at the forum.

“We at Special Olympics are incredibly grateful for these opportunities to empower our athletes to achieve their best, both on and off the field of play,” says President and Managing Director of Special Olympics Europe Eurasia David Evangelista, also a Lion.

One hundred and twenty Leos and Lions and 30 Special Olympics athletes from the Cambodia province of Kampong Thom came together at Angkor Beer Football Club to compete in five-a-side football (soccer) and the traditional sport of tug-of-war, which are both popular national sports for Cambodia.

In 2015, tug-of-war was recognized for its cultural significance in Cambodia (as well as in South Korea, Vietnam, and the Philippines) and placed on the UN Cultural Heritage list. Incorporating the game into the forum helped participants to better understand the local culture.

A Leo helps a Special Olympian get his shoes secure before play begins.

There were four unified teams for football, each comprised of five to six Leos/Lions and three Special Olympics athletes, and there were eight tug-of-war teams, each with eight to nine Leos/Lions and two to three athletes. The rest of the forum participants who were not playing helped document the event through photography and videography.

For some Leos, this was their first time playing tug-of-war. For some Special Olympics athletes, this was their first experience traveling to another province for sports. Before the event, Lions and Leos provided shoes, sports uniforms, and footballs for the athletes to train with.

The partnership enabled participants to learn the ethos of the Special Olympics movement while also having hands-on experience of how Unified Sports activities can bring about inclusion through sports.

Overall, everyone had a lot of fun.