Special Olympics today announced the launch of a new global initiative to expand football opportunities for players with intellectual disabilities. This was presented at a press conference prior to the final of the FIFA Women's World Cup China 2007 in Shanghai.

Special Olympics is the world's largest sports programme for people with intellectual disabilities, providing year-round training and competition for more than 2.5 million athletes in 165 countries. Football is one of the major sports in Special Olympics, with more than 300,000 players participating world wide.

Special Olympics Global Football (SOGF) aims to use the visibility and reach of the world's most popular sport to generate greater public awareness, acceptance and respect for people with intellectual disabilities, and to raise the necessary funds to significantly expand Special Olympics football participation on every continent.

Several well-known football stars have already pledged their commitment to supporting Special Olympics Global Football, including Kaka, David James, Carlos Parreira, Kristine Lilly, Doris Fitschen and Teofilo Cubillas. The initiative is being co-chaired by Angelo Moratti, Special Olympics International Board member and nephew of Inter-Milan owner, Massimo Moratti, along with Argentinian football legend Osvaldo (Ossie) Ardiles.

"Through my involvement with local Special Olympics football in London, I have seen first hand the ability and love of the game shown by football players with intellectual disabilities. Through football, we can certainly help these individuals achieve greater things, on and off the field; in turn, they can inspire all of us with their unstoppable spirit," said Ossie Ardiles, Co-Chair, Special Olympics Global Football Advisory Committee.

FIFA, through the Football For Hope Movement, which is the key element of the strategic alliance with streetfootballworld, is actively supporting Special Olympics in 10 countries in Africa. Through this partnership, more than 3,000 young players with intellectual disabilities are involved in football training and competition, and are given free health screenings.

"Football is a common and universal language which unites people from all walks of life without discrimination of any kind. The aim of FIFA's Football for Hope movement is to create a better future through the game of football. Within this programme, FIFA is determined to give its support to Special Olympics, whose goal is truly remarkable. I would like to encourage all football fans and others to attend the Special Olympics World Summer Games Shanghai 2007. For the Game. For the World.," stated FIFA President Joseph S. Blatter.

"We believe the global football community can unite our athletes and families with fans and youth creating new and exciting opportunities for acceptance and inclusion," said Timothy Shriver, Chairman and CEO of Special Olympics. "We also believe the spirit, determination and fair play of our athletes can inspire footballers and their fans throughout the world."

UEFA and CONMEBOL are also active partners in their respective regions. Special Olympics is currently seeking corporate sponsorship for this global initiative.

The official launch of Special Olympics Global Football will be at the Sheraton Denang Ballroom, Shanghai, from 12.00h to 14.00h on Thursday, 4 October.

Note: Special Olympics and Paralympics are two separate world sport organisations for people with disabilities, both recognised by the IOC. The Paralympics promote elite sports opportunities for people with disabilities, while Special Olympics promotes opportunities at all levels for people with intellectual disabilities.

Additional information about the 2007 Special Olympics World Summer Games and competition results are available on the Special Olympics website at www.specialolympics.org, providers of the picture for this article.