Special Olympic Footballers Take Part in Special Champions League Football Tournament

Footballers and their coaches celebrating and cheering in the Special Champions League football tournament.

Team celebration at Special Champions League football tournament.

Football players with intellectual disabilities, including athletes from Special Olympics Portugal, were delighted to participate at the recent Special Champions League football tournament on Wednesday 8 February 2023. The tournament was hosted by Fundação Benfica at their Estádio da Luz campus in Lisbon. The event was the first in a series of tournaments that make up the Special Champions League project which is funded by Erasmus+ and features Special Olympics Europe/Eurasia as an expert partner. The football tournament showcased a fantastic collaboration between the European Football Development Network, Fundação Benfica, Special Olympics Europe/Eurasia and Masterfoot while proving to be an enjoyable experience for everyone involved.

Woman speaking and standing next to mascot.

Vicky Conde from EFDN at the award ceremony.

Photo by Isabel Cutileiro

Twelve different teams participated, featuring boys and girls with an intellectual disability, from AFC Ajax, Werder Bremen, Benfica, KAS Eupen, SD Huesca, Levante UD, NEC Nijmegen, Foundation 92, Juventus, Bayer Leverkusen, Everton and the team from Special Olympics Portugal. The ages ranged from 15 – 28 and as Special Olympics oversaw the rules of the tournament, fair competition was ensured under the divisioning process so that teams of equal ability played each other. The tournament was not all about football as the social side was every bit as important. For some players, it was also the first time they had been on a plane which made the tournament a truly memorable experience. The day before competition began, the teams gathered to eat together, play a quiz and participate in an ice-breaker paper plane challenge. It was a great way for all players in the tournament to get to know each other before competing.

All teams had the opportunity to play five matches which meant each participant saw on-field game time during the tournament. The tournament finished with an award ceremony where there was the opportunity for social engagement between the footballers and to have a photo with the Benfica official mascot. After the ceremony, there was a final gathering at the Museu da Cerveja where all teams dined together sharing in a typical Portuguese dish: Codfish Cake.

The next Special Champions League tournament will be hosted by Bayer Leverkusen in June 2023.


Tournaments like the Special Champions League in Lisbon are the perfect example of the power of football to unite people from different backgrounds. It was a great experience and loved seeing how happy the players and the coaches were in Lisbon.

Vicky Conde – EFDN

The group has come closer together through the travel and football experiences at the SCL, great to experience and see this up close as a trainer!

Job Bakhuis – Coach NEC

It’s the first time I’ve travelled to Portugal and being able to go with my friends has been great fun, and even more so wearing the SD Huesca kit.

Noel Esteban (Huesca)

Funded by the European Union. Views and opinions expressed are however those of the author(s) only and do not necessarily reflect those of the European Union or HaDEA. Neither the European Union nor the granting authority can be held responsible for them.

European Union Blue Flag: Co Funded by the European Union

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