Innovators of the Week: Bringing Unified Sports to Uzbekistan

The following post was written by Yokutkhon Kholbbekova with support from Valeriy Novichkov, Youth Leaders from Uzbekistan. Youkuthkhon and Valeriy are using their Unified vision to change the mindset of sport opportunities for individuals with intellectual disabilities in Uzbekistan. Check out how they #innovateforinclusion!


Any human goal requires certain efforts to be made, best skills and proficiency to be applied. In terms of Special Olympics, this includes inspiration and good intentions. Even though we aren’t as experienced in some life and social aspects like adults, young people have many opportunities to discover talents and abilities, acquire knowledge, develop new skills, and most importantly, take part in decision-making processes for the benefits of youth as a whole. We would like to share with society that individuals with intellectual disabilities, even as young people, are able to be a part of social opportunities through activities and sports.

Special Olympics Youth Leaders, Yokutkhon and Valeriy

My name is Yokutkhon and I am 24 years old. I’m a student of journalism and an athlete of adaptive sport. A few years ago, when I was search for sport opportunities for my younger sister, I was led to Special Olympics. I was sure that a sport for individuals with intellectual disabilities is something separate and in opposition to general social practices around sports. However, I found that not to be the case.


My companion and partner Valeriy. When we first met, Valeriy was a champion of Regional and World Games with several awards and medals. To my surprise, he was a very affable gentleman and interesting talker. He would assist his coach during trainings with new Special Olympics athletes. I really admired his leadership role in the trainings. Valeriy conducted the warmup activities, demonstrated necessary elements, explained rules, and the athletes followed his instruction. To this date, he attends all trainings in athletics to support those who need help. Every training is really exciting and inspiring. It is from this that I realized the skills that any leader must have. We are all different and have different talents, but the skill to inspire is something special. His leadership adventure in Special Olympics had already started, and I joined him with a great pleasure.


With our Youth Innovation Project, we received the opportunity to experience Special Olympics from the inside. We were able to not only beneficiaries of Special Olympics, but also active participants in the process to create programming. We were able to help from the very beginning with pre-operational activities, planning, preliminary arranging, and organizational issues. Together with a Special Olympics staff member we were able to develop a brochure explaining information on Special Olympics activities and our Program that was distributed to potential participants.

Representatives of government, public organizations and sport federations gather together to learn about the impact of Special Olympics Unified Sports

The first, and most difficult quest, was to gather representatives of government, public organizations and sport federations. We aimed to demonstrate the best practices of Special Olympics Unified Sports worldwide and achievements in Uzbekistan. We are glad because participants found time to attend and take part in discussions of vital issues. We are living examples of effective inclusion, and we hoped participants realized this fact. As a result of the event, representatives of basketball and handball schools agreed to attend our joint activity at the College of Olympic Reserve, where athletic training takes place.


At the Unified activity, Special Olympics athletes met guest athletes with enthusiasm and warm hospitality. We had the opportunity to demonstrate the training process, and Special Olympics athletes demonstrated their achievements and talked about their experiences at World Games. Both schools found joint activities interesting in terms of methods and results. Schools were offered the opportunities to create Unified clubs, and further collaboration is being negotiated. In addition to the support of the schools, we received support by the Youth Association’s Department of Young People with Disabilities and the Sport Club of the Association of Disabled Individuals of Uzbekistan. The Memorandums Of Understanding with both organizations are being negotiated.

Participants at the Unified Activity with Special Olympics athletes and athletes from other organizations in Uzbekistan

The most important result of the conducted activities is the establishment of a Youth Department within Special Olympics Uzbekistan, which was approved by the Board upon the results of our project. We hope, with the support of our mentors and colleagues, this department will contribute into common work. Our first experience with our project and given opportunities made us pay attention not only to problems in society but also inside us. There is a lot to do…but everything is possible when we join our skills and efforts!


To finish our thoughts, let us remember once again a quote of one of the greatest world leaders and friend of Special Olympics…

“It always seems impossible until it’s done.” — Nelson Mandela