CHICAGO (CBS)–As the birthplace of the Special Olympics, it makes sense that the international community of special athletes would descend on Chicago to celebrate the event’s 50th anniversary.

CBS 2’s Lauren Victory visited the CIBC Fire Pitch Tuesday, where more than 400 athletes from around the world gathered to face-off in a soccer tournament.

The players made up 24 teams that are competing for the first-ever “Unified Cup.”

The name symbolizes players with and without disabilities coming together to compete.

special olympics 400 Athletes Converge On Chicago For Special Olympics Anniversary

Hundreds of athletes are in town for the 50th anniversary of the Special Olympics (July 17, 2018)

For many of the athletes in attendance, was their first time traveling.

Victory spoke to a few players, who shared their sentiments about how special it is to be able to compete against other athletes with different backgrounds from around the globe.

“The people are very nice, very good–my second family,” said Serigne Mbacke of Team Italy. “I am very happy with these people.”

Another Italian player said he was having a great time sharing the special day with his teammates.

“We travel very well (together),” said Luca Lanfrance. “It’s fantastic.”

For the teams, getting to Chicago required a lot more effort than just booking a flight.

At least 60 soccer teams applied, but only about half that number made the cut.

Many of the teams competing for the Unified Cup trained for the event with professional soccer clubs in their home countries.

Organizers of the 50th anniversary say unified sports are the future of the Special Olympics.

Chief of Games and Competitions for the event, Lou Laria calls the Unified Cup the “inclusion revolution.” Participants have started using the social media hashtag #choosetoinclude, she said.

“It’s all about just taking it a step further,” Laria said. “You know, we were changing perceptions and making monumental mindshifts with generations before, and now I think kids in the younger generation are more wired for this.”

Festivities planned for the July 17-21 celebration include a “Torch Run” and “Inclusion Revolution Day” at Soldier Field on Saturday.

Also Saturday, Chance the Rapper will close out the last night of the event with a concert at Northerly Island.

 

 

Lauren Victory