In the afternoon of Day 2 of the Unity Cup experience, all of the athletes and celebrities were escorted to a Rugby stadium adjacent to Green Point Stadium for a work-out. Now, when I say escorted, I mean that our busses were led through Cape Town by police cruisers as The President of South Africa, Jacob Zuma, was also going to be practicing with the team. The Coca Cola organizers told us earlier in the day that there was going to be a “bomb sweep” of the busses, but they originally neglected to tell us why. When I first heard this, I almost turned the video camera on myself to tell my wife, daughter, and parents that I love them in the hopes that the footage would make it through the wreckage. However, a few moments later, the organizer got back on the microphone to tell us it was standard procedure for any event involving the President. Phew. My fear had now turned into gratitude to be a part of such a special group requiring a police escort (the last time the police escorted me anywhere I was in the back seat of the police cruiser- but that is a story for another day).
As soon as practice began it became abundantly clear that this game is serious. The Unity Cup is about sending a message to the World that people with different abilities can be included and accepted into their societies and cultures. What better way to do that than to showcase the talents and skills of these athletes in a serious match. Coaches Lawrie McMenemy and Chris Kamara (us ignorant Americans may not know these guys but they are both big-time soccer personalities in Europe) led the athletes and celebrity players through rigorous drills. Even a Special Olympics “lifer” like myself was humbled and impressed by the skills showcased by the Special Olympics athletes. I knew Matt Millett had skills but each athlete from around the world possessed incredible talent and knowledge of the sport. Once again, the Unity Cup is about showing people what our athletes can do. It is NOT about creating sympathy for what they cannot do. It has also become clear that the celebrity players and coaches are as excited about The Unity Cup as the athletes. After all, they are getting a chance, because of the leadership and dedication of these Special Olympics athletes, to participate in the World Cup (for many of them it is a second or third time, but I can’t imagine the excitement level would ever diminish).
Here are some video clips from the practice:
Here Matt meets S. African President jacob Zuma (trust us)…