FROM LEFT: Dato’ Peter Velappan, Peter Wheeler and Datuk Muhammad Feisol Hassan at Wisma FAM today

PREPARATION for the inaugural Special Olympics Unified Football World Cup Malaysia in November this year is progressing steadily, leaving no stone unturned by Special Olympics Malaysia (SOM) as they aim to bring together more than 2,000 athletes and officials from 25 countries for one of the biggest sporting event in the country.

A five-man delegation from the Washington-based Special Olympics International (SOI) led by Peter Wheeler, Chief of Strategic Properties at Special Olympics, arrived in Kuala Lumpur yesterday for a routine inspection of several venues spread across five states in the country and the National Sports Council (NSC) complex in Bukit Jalil.

The others in the team are Christian Guiralt, Lee Todd, Rumi Kaibara and Arjun Chandrasekhar. They were met on arrival by SOM president Datuk Muhammad Feisol Hassan and SOM vice-president, Dato’ Peter Velappan.

“We’ve been to Kuala Lumpur before when Malaysia made the bid to host the Special Olympics Unified Football World Cup. Today, I must say we are very impressed with the progressive reports. Our assessment on the on-going preparations is also highly satisfactory,” said Wheeler at a press conference at Wisma FAM in Kelana Jaya today.

“SOI are confident Malaysia being a peaceful nation with fantastic infrastructure will certainly excel in hosting this event. SOM have gone the extra distance to ensure every aspect of the Special Olympics Unified Football World Cup is well looked into. We are truly appreciative of this initiative,” added Wheeler.

The SOI have pioneered the concept of Unified Sports, bringing together athletes with and without intellectual disabilities as teammates when Malaysia host the football event from Nov 1-15. Each team will consist of 11 players. However, only five players with normal intellectual ability can be fielded at a time.

North America and Caribbean will be represented by the United States and Jamaica respectively while Costa Rica and Honduras will represent Central America. South Africa, Ivory Coast, Tanzania, Libya and Saudi Arabia were qualifiers from the Africa and Middle East qualifying rounds as with Serbia, Romania, Slovakia, France, Poland and Russia from Europe. Asia will be represented by South Korea, China, Thailand, Bangladesh and Malaysia.

South America will be represented by Paraguay, Uruguay, Peru, Ecuador and Brazil.

The 25 countries involved in the first round will be divided into five groups, with each group comprising five teams, and hosted in Perak, Kedah, Sabah, Sarawak and Selangor.

Datuk Feisol disclosed SOM have allocated a budget of RM20-30 million to host the event which includes providing air fare, accommodation, and internal transportation of the competing teams as well as preparing the competition venues.

He also added former Japanese international Hidetoshi Nakata – who played for five different clubs during a successful eight-year spell in Serie A in which he won a Scudetto with Roma, has verbally agreed to come on board as an Ambassador of the World Cup.

Former England and Manchester United captain David Beckham is also on SOM’s radar.

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