Athletes Play High-Spirited Football at Special Olympics Turkey Tournament

More than 200 Special Olympics football players from across Turkey competed in 36 lively matches in April in the southern seaside resort of Beldibi-Antalya. Beldibi citizens enthusiastically watched the spectacular 7-a-side football tournament, organized by Special Olympics Turkey as part of the Special Olympics European Football Week.

"The Turkish people live for football. We wanted to show that Special Olympics footballers share these emotions. We also wanted people to see the courage our players have," said Ali Uredi, Special Olympics Turkey Sports Director.

On 6 April the event was officially opened with great fanfare at the Beldibi City Hall. The tournament itself, involving 20 teams, was held at the Mediterranean University Stadium. The next evening, a live concert was held for the Special Olympics athletes, guests and the local community in Beldibi’s town square.

"We have the Beldibi Municipality, the Turkish Football Association, the Mediterranean University, Sabanci Holding and Adidas to thank for this amazing event, " said Zeynep Uluer, Special Olympics Turkey national director. "Everyone involved in this event has embraced our Special Olympics footballers, making them feel welcomed and very much part of the football world," she said.

Special Olympics football technical director has career that spans about 50 years

hsan Dumelli is the Special Olympics technical director for football in Turkey. He has a football career that spans close to 50 years. Born in 1925, Dumelli began playing football at the age of 13. In 1947 he became a professional player. A goalie, he played for first division league teams Suleymaniye and Besiktas before joining the army. Upon his retirement, he joined Kastamonuspor as a coach. In 1976 he joined the Turkish Football Association as a trainer.

At the age of 71, Dumelli retired from the association and became involved in Special Olympics. "It is a pure joy to watch the Special Olympics football players enjoy their matches and to see their attitude toward the sport. They are gentlemen on the pitch and there is no need to show any red or yellow cards as is necessary during many other matches I’ve been involved with. I wish everyone in football could come and see the Special Olympics teams play. There is a real spirit of fair play!"

Turkish football hero Fatih Terim attends press conference

Media coverage of the Special Olympics tournament was outstanding with major television and newspaper journalists showing great interest in the event.

On April 2, to kick off the Antalya event and the Special Olympics European Football Week, a press conference was held in Istanbul at the Sports Writers Association. Approximately 30 journalists attended. Mr. Senol Gunes, national team coach; Mr. Gunduz Tekionay, national team coordinator; Mr. Orhan Saka, Vice President, Turkish Football Association, Mr. Mehmet Cansun, Vice Chairman, Galatasaray; Mrs. Sema Kucaksoz, president, Turkish Football Foundation; and, from the world of weightlifting, Olympic champion Naim Suleymanoglu, were all on hand to show their support for Special Olympics Turkey.

One of the highlights of the press conference was the attendance of Turkish football hero Fatih Terim, former coach for Galatasaray and former coach of Italian Serie A club Fiorentina. "I think Special Olympics Turkey is great and it should be supported by us all," Terim said.

The impact the media has on public awareness was beautifully highlighted when a Special Olympics team from northern Turkey was traveling to the event. The team stopped for lunch at a roadside restaurant. The restaurant’s owner had seen Special Olympics promoted on television the night before and gave the Special Olympics footballers lunch on the house.