ST JAMES' SWIFTS Football For All (FFA) have launched its new Special Olympics football club, commencing in the 2022/23 season.
Operating as a football club for players with physical, sensory and/or intellectual disabilities, St James Swifts FFA team currently play in the IFA leagues and are set to join the Special Olympics programme this year.
Launched exactly five years ago with only five players, St James' Swifts now has 35 athletes playing for the FFA team aged between 13 and 37, with 18 of those players eligible for the Special Olympics programme.
Speaking at the launch of the new club, Special Olympics Regional Director, Shaun Cassidy said: “Clubs are the heart of Special Olympics and the most important part of our organisation.
“The work our coaches and backroom team do for our athletes and their families is paramount to the charity. We are thrilled that St James Swifts FFA are entering into the Special Olympics programme this year, giving athletes amazing opportunities within their area as well as the chance to progress to regional and national games.”
With player and character development both priorities at Special Olympics, the athletes at St James Swifts FFA can also get involved in the club beyond playing such as becoming a junior coach, fundraising and event organising amongst others so they have the opportunity to develop skills they can use off the pitch as well.
Special Olympics Ireland offers additional opportunities for athletes to develop and demonstrate their abilities in leadership roles through the Athlete Leadership Programme.
This programme will be available to the St James Swifts players, offering both personal and professional development as well as acting within the wider organisation as athlete representatives and health messengers.
“The 35 amazing athletes we have in the FFA are crucial to our football club and we are delighted to now offer those eligible the Special Olympics programme as well,” Darren added.
“Being part of a community is so important for everyone in society, especially those with intellectual disabilities and so it is fantastic to see so many from across Belfast, Newtownabbey and even Coleraine travelling to our training every week, developing their skills and making strong friendships.”
St James Swifts FFA has entered its first junior league this season and look forward to defending the tournament they won in Blackpool last May.
In 2024 the club has a target of competing in Spain. Now part of the Special Olympics Ireland programme, St James Swifts athletes can access additional playing opportunities with the Special Olympics league fixtures as well as the chance to progress along the four-year advancement cycle of competition within area, regional and national games.
Special Olympics is a sports organisation for people with an intellectual disability from the age of four years old with no upper age limit. Special Olympics has thousands of athletes from across the island of Ireland participating in 15 different sports in over 250 active clubs.
Through its sports, health and leadership programmes the athletes learn to be physically, mentally and emotionally fit. They get to learn new skills, increase confidence and most importantly they get to experience the joy of sport and make life-long friendships.
All St James' Swifts teams train Tuesday and Thursday evenings from 6pm-8pm at Coláiste Feirste, Falls Road Belfast. The junior team (11-14 year olds) and beginner (lower ability 15+) train at 6pm. The advanced team (mid-higher ability 15+) train at 7pm.
New athletes are welcome to come along to a training session with St James Swifts FFA. Contact Darren Coyle directly on 07704010363 or via St James Swifts FFA on Facebook.