Big attendances in La Liga matches are natural in Spain, a country hooked to top class football. But what struck the chairman of Club Gimnàstic de Tarragona, Josep María Andreu, was a group of boys with intellectual disabilities coming regularly to support his team playing in the Segunda (second) division of La Liga. Moved by their love for the sport, Andreu drew support from other clubs to start a tournament for those with intellectual disabilities.
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This little inspiration turned into a movement that reached the headquarters of La Liga, the governing body of Spain’s top professional football. A little convincing from these eager administrators from different clubs led by Andreu gave birth to the first football league in the world for the Intellectually Disabled (ID).
“This is very important for us because we feel that the idea of La Liga Genuine is a like a social capital for our company (Li Liga is a professional entity). A part of what we earn we try to give back to society. The birth of this project is happening because of that commitment,” the president of La Liga, Javier Tebas said about the new initiative from Europe’s topmost football competition.
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The La Liga president made it a point to appear personally at the launch of the each of the four stages of the league that will eventually decide the champion in June this year. “This is not a one-off tournament. It is a part of the La Liga and will be played every season,” Tebas stresses on the seriousness about La Liga’s ground-breaking social responsibility and integration initiative.
“We wanted to come out with some formula by which we could give these ‘differently abled’ people the opportunity to wear the shirt of their favourite team. The La Liga’s decision to introduce a professional league for them is like a dream coming true,” said Andreu, the man behind the movement.
The La Liga Genuine competition is based on values such as integration, teamwork, camaraderie and sportsmanship ahead of competitiveness. The value of fair play takes centre stage in a competition of this nature, which is why sportsmanship will be rewarded in the final tallying of the points. The project was introduced to the member clubs in April 2017. La Liga Genuine proved a hugely popular idea and the number of participating teams grew to 18 very quickly. Atletico Madrid is the most prominent of the participants while the organisers are expecting FC Barcelona joining the movement soon.
Interestingly, the ‘Genuine’ rules allow teams to be single gendered or mixed (male-female). Players born before 1 October 2001 (over 16 years of age) with a certified intellectual disability of at least 33% may take part. “I am enjoying it. I play in my style and would like to say that the few women who are playing are as good as men. But what I like most is the team work,” though speaking with difficulty Alba Blasco of Levante Unión Deportiva shows her brilliant footballing mind.
Much like Alba, Manolo Camacho, who is the captain of Cordoba CF the team leading in points in fair play after the second stage, is ecstatic about being able to play like their favourite stars.
( The writer was in Tarragona, Barcelona at the invitation of La Liga )
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