With a piece of extraordinarily bright news in a year that has been devoid of too much joy, the Special Olympics has announced that Hockey for those with Intellectual Disabilities, which is known as either ParaHockey ID or Hockey ID, will be included in the 2023 Special Olympics World Games in Berlin as a demonstration sport. For the purposes of this article, we will refer to the sport as Hockey ID.
Special Olympics, which was founded in 1968, has inclusion at its very core. It’s mission, which has remained unchanged for the past 52 years, is to “create a better world by fostering the acceptance and inclusion of all people.”
While the Special Olympics movement provides a host of training, fund-raising and other opportunities for communities around the world, one of the pinnacles of the movement is the bi-annual Special Olympics World Games.
At the event in June 2023, in Berlin, 7,000 Special Olympics athletes from 170 countries will compete in 24 sports. There will be a support staff of 3,000 coaches and 20,000 volunteers.
It is here that Hockey ID will be making its debut appearance, with between 12 and 15 nations represented, as a demonstration sport – one of two sports chosen from a field of 10.
Thomas Gindra, Vice President Sports at Special Olympics, commented on the decision: “All applications were convincing, but field hockey and rowing were slightly ahead in the end. These are established sports that have a lot of potential to advance the inclusive sports landscape in Germany together with Special Olympics. With field hockey and rowing, we want to send a strong signal that more and more sports and clubs are joining the Special Olympics movement and thus improving the lives of people with intellectual disabilities.”
The driving force behind Hockey ID’s inclusion is Norman Hughes, who is FIH Hockey ID Project Lead. He explained that the journey to this point for Hockey ID began in earnest in 2015 when European Hockey Federation President and FIH Executive Board Member Marijke Fleuren introduced Hughes to Natascha Bruers, the Sports Director for Special Olympics Netherlands. One conversation led to another and eventually Hughes found himself presenting Hockey ID to the Special Olympics Eurasia Congress in 2019.
Among the audience were representatives from across the globe and Hockey ID began to gain more traction in countries where it had not formerly been really recognised or facilitated.
A major step forward occurred when the DHB (the German Hockey Federation) hosted the men’s EuroHockey Indoor Championships in February 2020 and ran a Hockey ID festival alongside the Championships. Representatives from Special Olympics Germany were at the event and witnessed for themselves the excitement and skill involved in Hockey ID.
“It was explained to me that we were up against 10 other sports for just two spots as demonstration sports,” says Hughes. “But we built a bid up and it was submitted in July. We heard the good news in November.”
Among the key factors that sealed the deal for Hockey ID’s inclusion was the willingness of the FIH, the EHF and other national hockey associations to work in partnership with the Special Olympics.
“It was also the fact that we are doing a lot in education and coaching,” adds Hughes. “We need to keep pushing now though because the Special Olympics will want to see us keep growing and developing. Things such as coaching resources and coach education are a vital part of that and it will be great to see these embedded into the FIH Academy.
“I also hope this will inspire nations to get on board now. I would like to see local groups linking with their Special Olympics organisations to really make sustained progress.
“For the athletes, it is really life-changing. It is a massive opening ceremony and a massive closing ceremony. There are workshops in between events and full educational experiences. It builds confidence, and opens up other opportunities.”
President of DHB, Carola Meyer, said: “We are very, very happy that we could successfully apply with Hockey ID as a demonstration sport for the Special Olympics World Games 2023 in Berlin.
“It is a very important step to be represented with field hockey in the Special Olympics family. This application has been supported by many letters from different national hockey federations, the International Hockey Federation and the European Hockey Federation, which was certainly a decisive criterion of hockey to win the bid against strong competition.”
As of this year, Hockey ID in Germany has two ambassadors in Selin Oruz, the bronze winner of Rio 2016, and Mahmut Gerdan, an active member of the Special Hockey Team Germany. “I am a very proud ambassador of Special Hockey Team Germany today,” Selin Oruz said when she received the news of the successful application. “And I wish our team lots of fun at the 2023 Special Olympics World Games in Berlin!”. “That’s great news,” said a delighted Mahmut Gerdan, who as a player has already taken part in a EuroHockey Championship in Hockey ID. “It’s great that we can be there in Berlin. Until then we will train hard to become even better. To play such a tournament in front of your own audience in Germany is something very special!”
FIH Executive Board member and EHF President Marijke Fleuren, who has championed the inclusion of Hockey ID at the Special Olympics, said: “To say I am delighted that Hockey ID gets the chance to participate in the Special Olympics World Games as a demonstration sport would be an understatement.
“I am thrilled and emotionally touched that our athletes can show their skills on such a platform. They deserve it, as do their parents and fans who have given them 100 per cent support on their journey to participate in our sport. From my side, a big thank you to Norman Hughes and Natascha Bruers for their tireless work and enthusiasm and to DHB and Special Olympics Germany for making it happen.”
FIH President Dr Narinder Dhruv Batra, said: “FIH has a huge commitment towards inclusivity and the news that Hockey ID will be a demonstration sport at the 2023 Special Olympics World Games in Berlin shows the enormous progress that is being made across the international hockey community in this area of our sport.
“Congratulations are due to Norman Hughes and his team for the work they have done in this area. And we are immensely grateful to the DHB and Special Olympics Germany for providing this opportunity. And we must acknowledge that, while these are tremendous achievements, we cannot stop here. We must now keep pushing forwards, with the support of continental federations and national associations, to ensure that the inclusive nature of Hockey ID is available to hockey communities in every corner of the globe.”
Photo: Ireland v Belgium, 2019 Cronos Euro ParaHockey Championhips (EHF / Col Morley (c))