ParaHockey to join the Special Olympics World Games in 2023 in Berlin

ParaHockey ID will be included at the 2023 Special Olympics World Games in Berlin as a demonstration sport as the game for those with intellectual difficulties continues to grow in stature.

In June 2023, hockey will take its place among 7,000 Special Olympics athletes from 170 countries, competing in 24 sports. There will be a support staff of 3,000 coaches and 20,000 volunteers. For its debut appearance, hockey will have between 12 and 15 nations represented.

Thomas Gindra, Vice President Sports at Special Olympics, commented on the decision to choose hockey ahead of a number of other applicants: “All applications were convincing, but field hockey and rowing were slightly ahead in the end.

“These are established sports that have a lot of potential to advance the inclusive sports landscape in Germany together with Special Olympics. With field hockey and rowing, we want to send a strong signal that more and more sports and clubs are joining the Special Olympics movement and thus improving the lives of people with intellectual disabilities.”

The driving force behind Hockey ID’s inclusion is Norman Hughes, who is FIH Hockey ID Project Lead. He explained that the journey to this point for Hockey ID began in earnest in 2015 when European Hockey Federation President and FIH Executive Board Member Marijke Fleuren introduced Hughes to Natascha Bruers, the Sports Director for Special Olympics Netherlands.

One conversation led to another and eventually Hughes found himself presenting Hockey ID to the Special Olympics Eurasia Congress in 2019. Among the audience were representatives from across the globe and Hockey ID began to gain more traction in countries where it had not formally been really recognised or facilitated.

A major step forward occurred when the DHB (the German Hockey Federation) hosted the men’s EuroHockey Indoor Championships in February 2020 and ran a Hockey ID festival alongside the Championships. Representatives from Special Olympics Germany were at the event and witnessed for themselves the excitement and skill involved in Hockey ID.

“It was explained to me that we were up against 9 other sports for just two spots as demonstration sports,” says Hughes. “But we built a bid up and it was submitted in July. We heard the good news in November.”

Among the key factors that sealed the deal for Hockey ID’s inclusion was the willingness of the FIH, the EHF and other national hockey associations to work in partnership with the Special Olympics.

“It was also the fact that we are doing a lot in education and coaching,” adds Hughes. “We need to keep pushing now though because the Special Olympics will want to see us keep growing and developing. Things such as coaching resources and coach education are a vital part of that and it will be great to see these embedded into the FIH Academy.

“I also hope this will inspire nations to get on board now. I would like to see local groups linking with their Special Olympics organisations to really make sustained progress.

“For the athletes, it is really life-changing. It is a massive opening ceremony and a massive closing ceremony. There are workshops in between events and full educational experiences. It builds confidence, and opens up other opportunities.”

President of DHB, Carola Meyer, said: “We are very, very happy that we could successfully apply with Hockey ID as a demonstration sport for the Special Olympics World Games 2023 in Berlin.

“It is a very important step to be represented with field hockey in the Special Olympics family. This application has been supported by many letters from different national hockey federations, the International Hockey Federation and the European Hockey Federation, which was certainly a decisive criterion of hockey to win the bid against strong competition.”

As of this year, Hockey ID in Germany has two ambassadors in Selin Oruz, the bronze winner of Rio 2016, and Mahmut Gerdan, an active member of the Special Hockey Team Germany. “I am a very proud ambassador of Special Hockey Team Germany today,” Selin Oruz said when she received the news of the successful application. “And I wish our team lots of fun at the 2023 Special Olympics World Games in Berlin!”.

“That’s great news,” said a delighted Mahmut Gerdan, who as a player has already taken part in a European Championship in Hockey ID. “It’s great that we can be there in Berlin. Until then we will train hard to become even better. To play such a tournament in front of your own audience in Germany is something very special!”

FIH Executive Board member and EHF President Marijke Fleuren, who has championed the inclusion of Hockey ID at the Special Olympics, said: “To say I am delighted that Hockey ID gets the chance to participate in the Special Olympics World Games as a demonstration sport would be an understatement.

“I am thrilled and emotionally touched that our athletes can show their skills on such a platform. They deserve it, as do their parents and fans who have given them 100 per cent support on their journey to participate in our sport. From my side, a big thank you to Norman Hughes and Natascha Bruers for their tireless work and enthusiasm and to DHB and Special Olympics Germany for making it happen.”