A group of children from Samara have won the trip of a lifetime to the home of football giants Arsenal – the Emirates Stadium – after winning the Russian Junior Disabled Football tournament.
Disabled sport in Russia has never received much attention. However, things are slowly starting to change.
The country’s impressive performance in the Paralympics in Vancouver helped disabled athletes to get more coverage and sponsorship while, as former footballer Dmitry Sennikov says, awareness continues to grow around Russia.
“I remember being in America once, and thinking that there wasn’t one restaurant or shop which wasn’t accessible to someone in a wheelchair,” he stressed. “There were disabled toilets, disabled parking spots – disabled people are really well catered for over there. Russia could learn a lot from this and I think things are getting better in Moscow for example, as its easier for someone in a wheelchair to cross the street or get into the Metro now.”
The Russian Junior Disabled Football tournament is also helping to raise awareness, giving able-bodied players and those with disabilities the chance to play with each other. And Sennikov believes this is an excellent idea to help break down barriers.
“The fact that disabled kids can play alongside able bodied children is fantastic,” the former Russian international and Lokomotiv Moscow defender said. “It goes to show that all children are equal, whether they have a disability or not. When they get older they will take this understanding with them, and it will help to stamp out things like discrimination.”
Teams from five cities – Moscow, St. Petersburg, Sochi, Nizhny Novgorod and Samara – competed in the tournament. While there was plenty of fun and games as well to keep those who were not competing entertained.
The final saw teams from Samara and Nizhny Novgorod battle it out for the trip to London.
Incidentally, last year’s winners got an all expenses trip to the San Siro and were able to watch AC Milan play Sampdoria.
So there was plenty for the kids to play for, with the trip of a lifetime to Emirates Stadium and the chance to see the likes of Andrey Arshavin and Co.
The team from Samara, managed to win 4-2, much to the delight of their 13-year old player, Igor.
“I am a bit tired at the moment, but so happy,” he said. “It’s the second time we have come here and we have managed to win.”
Once again this tournament proved to be an all-round success. The team from Samara will have a trip they will never forget and see Arsenal play.
But perhaps most importantly, the event is helping to raise awareness of disabled sportspeople, and is helping to break down barriers between able-bodied and disabled athletes.