The football field of HNK Rijeka in Rujevica has acquired a completely new dimension. In collaboration with HNK Rijeka school of indoor soccer and Association for Down Syndrome 21 Rijeka started with training sessions for children with intellectual disabilities as part of Special Power League project. The excitement on their faces was visible as soon as they entered Rujevica. Coach Amir Hadžibeganović welcomed the children in the locker room, introduced them, gave them words of motivation, reminded them how important it is to drink water and introduced them to the world of football. The little athletes could hardly wait to go out on the football field and do their first training. And they did it, in the sun, but with smiles on their faces.
It is not easy to train professional players in these heats, and as the children with Down syndrome coped in training, coach Amir told us: “The children are doing well, I am satisfied. The beginnings are successful, and I see that the children themselves have high expectations.”
The project, initiated by Health Life Academy Association, was successfully implemented in famous Croatian professional football and handball clubs, and now HNK Rijeka joined this commendable project and generously provided the field, coaches, equipment and time for these cheerful children to have sport activities. In this way, children with Down syndrome were given the opportunity to get to know football up close, saw first hand what the life of a football player looks like from the stands or on the screen, got involved and got the opportunity to play football and bring additional physical activity into their lives, to be healthier and more satisfied.
“We joined this great action thanks to the people from Health Life Academy Association from Pula and HNK Rijeka, who agreed on everything and managed to meet all expectations and needs of our children. We are all gathered with the goal of including our children with intellectual disabilities in sports and society. We want them to become equal members of society, both in sports and in public life. The inclusion and integration of children is very important, so we are looking forward to this approach. We thank all the people who designed it and the initiators. Our association has about 60 nominal members, and children from preschool age to people over 30 years of age stood on the football field. In the Association, we even have one 45-year-old athlete who sees himself as a captain in this story, “said Amira Mešić Simunić, president of the Association for Down Syndrome 21 Rijeka.
The head of the HNK Rijeka football school, Fausto Budicin, watching the first training of the children, said: “I have no words to describe these emotions. The point of football is that children get a certain amount of pleasure. The most important smile is on their faces before and during training. It is indescribable and fills me with pleasure. My expectations are that the children will be happy, satisfied and that we will do as many trainings and activities for them as possible. We want the children to feel what it is like to be part of the big family of NK Rijeka. “
The first training was supported by members Health Life Academy Association from Pula: Dario Jagić, Secretary General of HLA, Davor Dvanajšćak, project coordinator for the USA and the rest of the world and Kristian Batelić, project coordinator for Croatia.
It is worth noting that the little football players in training were not only boys, but also girls. “I notice that a lot of girls approached this training. We are very glad to see a large number of girls on the field along with the boys in this unique situation. This league has no result. I would call it the “league of happiness” because it is important that they participate and socialize, play, and it is less important who wins, “said the Secretary General, Dario Jagic.