Finally the day of the big game had arrived. After 27 years of playing soccer, as well as many years of being a leader on and off the field, Matt Millett, along with 15 Special Olympics athlete peers from around the world, were ready to take their rightful place on the pitch at Green Point Stadium in Cape Town, South Africa. It should also be known that the 16 celebrities and former soccer players (including SA President Jacob Zuma, Coca Cola CEO Muhtar Kent, NBA Legend Dikembe Mutombo and others) were equally excited at the opportunity to play on the field at the World Cup. Personally, I almost broke down and was overwhelmed with emotion as we waited at the hotel for the bus to take us to the field. This was certainly due to my passion for this movement but it also had something to do with me having only slept in one of the previous three nights (and I swear it wasn’t due to partying – it was flying overnight and pulling an all-nighter working the other!)
It was a picture-perfect, sunny, and unseasonably warm winter day in Cape Town. When our busses arrived at the stadium, the players were quickly ushered inside to get dressed and ready to be led onto the field. The rest of the group (staff, friends, family, volunteers) were taken to our seats inside the stadium to witness this historical event. The Unity Cup had begun! The game started a few hours before the Argentina vs. Germany World Cup Quarterfinal game, but there were still many people in the stadium that had entered early to either see the Unity Cup or simply to take in the beautiful afternoon sunshine is this spectacular venue. Well, anyone who was in the stadium was certainly treated to something special (no pun intended).
The match featured two teams (one captained by Special Olympics Chairman/CEO Tim Shriver and the other by Coca Cola CEO Muhtar Kent) with an equal mix of Special Olympics athletes and celebrities. Matt Millett was on Shriver’s team along with President Jacob Zuma. Matt did himself, his family, his city (Worcester!) and his country proud by playing his typically stellar defense (as well as conducting himself with class and dignity throughout the entire week-end). The highlight of the match, however, came when 19-year-old Special Olympics athlete Yacine Zabi of Algeria, received a pass in the air with his back to the goal. Instead of trapping it or passing it, Zabi flipped himself up into the air and kicked the ball over his head. This is otherwise known as a bicycle kick, one of the most legendary and difficult moves to pull off in soccer. The ball rocketed into the net for a goal! It was unbelievable! It was certainly the first bicycle kick goal I have seen this World Cup. And it came from a Special Olympics athlete. Remember, The Unity Cup is about showing what people with different abilities CAN do, not creating sympathy for what they cannot do. Well, Yacine certainly showed the world what’s up!
To contextualize this for those of you who do not know soccer very well, Zabi’s bicycle kick in this game would be like a Special Olympics basketball athlete taking off from the foul-line and slam dunking the basketball, in the course of play (not during warm-ups or during practice), only the basketball game would be held at the Olympics prior to a USA vs. Spain Quarterfinal match (so Lebron, Kobe, Dwayne Wade, Pau Gasol, etc. would be in the house). That is what happened. In the same way that the foul-line dunk was made famous by Michael Jordan, the best basketball player of all-time, the bicycle kick was made famous by Pele, the best soccer player of all-time. There is no exaggerating what a powerful moment this was. It was resounding proof that people with different abilities deserve to be on the field, in the workplace, and everywhere else where you and I do our thing. We’ll even forgive Matt Millett for allowing it to happen, as we believe he was the closest defender on the play, but hey, he was just doing his part for the cause! The match also featured a few other goals, including one on a beautiful counter-attack by the White Team that led to a goal from Miran Brejc of Slovenia. The game ended in a 2-2 tie. Unfortunately, there was some sort of important match or something happening on the field after the Unity Cup, so there was no overtime to settle the tie (and don’t think I wasn’t pulling for an overtime, you know how we Americans hate ties!)
This game-changing event has now come and gone. However, there will be more. All week-end long, I kept hearing from Special Olympics staffers that this would not be the last Unity Cup. This was good to hear, but I needed further confirmation from another “game-changer”. This came from Coca Cola CEO Muhtar Kent, who indicated in his speech after the Unity Cup, that this “is only the beginning”. Hearing that from the man whose company made the whole thing happen is certainly music to my ears, and great news for the entire Special Olympics Global Family. More to come!
This is by no means the last post about the Unity Cup. We have many more videos to share as well as stories to tell so please stay tuned. Until next time, please enjoy a few videos leading up to the big game:
The Sox wanted to wish Matt good luck:
Matt being interviewed at hotel before game: