Promoting social inclusion through Unified Sports for youth with intellectual disabilities: a five-nation study

Roy McConkey, Sandra Dowling, David Hassan, Sabine Menke

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

90 Citations (Scopus)


Background Although the promotion of socialinclusion through sports has received increasedattention with other disadvantaged groups, this isnot the case for children and adults with intellectualdisability who experience marked social isolation.The study evaluated the outcomes from onesports programme with particular reference to theprocesses that were perceived to enhance socialinclusion.Method TheYouth Unified Sports programme ofSpecial Olympics combines players with intellectualdisabilities (called athletes) and those without intellectualdisabilities (called partners) of similar skilllevel in the same sports teams for training and competition.Alongside the development of sportingskills, the programme offers athletes a platform tosocialise with peers and to take part in the life oftheir community. Unified football and basketballteams from five countries – Germany, Hungary,Poland, Serbia and Ukraine – participated. Individualand group interviews were held with athletes,partners, coaches, parents and community leaders:totalling around 40 informants per country.Results Qualitative data analysis identified fourthematic processes that were perceived by informantsacross all countries and the two sports tofacilitate social inclusion of athletes. These were: (1)the personal development of athletes and partners;(2) the creation of inclusive and equal bonds; (3)the promotion of positive perceptions of athletes;and (4) building alliances within local communities.Conclusions Unified Sports does provide a vehiclefor promoting the social inclusion of people withintellectual disabilities that is theoretically crediblein terms of social capital scholarship and whichcontains lessons for advancing social inclusion inother contexts. Nonetheless, certain limitations areidentified that require further consideration toenhance athletes’ social inclusion in the widercommunity.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)923-935
JournalJournal of Intellectual Disability Research
Issue number10
Publication statusPublished (in print/issue) - Oct 2013


Dive into the research topics of 'Promoting social inclusion through Unified Sports for youth with intellectual disabilities: a five-nation study'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this