Major League Soccer is committed to diversity, acceptance and inclusion at all levels of the game, and continues to support programs that increase the accessibility of soccer and encourage healthy, active lifestyles.
MLS WORKS, ESPN and Special Olympics are working together to leverage the power of sports to promote an environment of social inclusion and acceptance, by uniting people with and without intellectual disabilities through Special Olympics Unified Sports.
In 2013, MLS and Special Olympics created a Unified Sports Soccer Exchange Program that is the cornerstone of the ongoing partnership between MLS and Special Olympics North America. Unique to this partnership is an exchange program for Special Olympics Unified Sports soccer teams, which are comprised of players with and without intellectual disabilities.
ESPN is the Global Presenting Sponsor of Special Olympics Unified Sports and has supported the program since 2013, to help grow global participation and increase awareness. ESPN began collaborating with MLS WORKS on the Special Olympics Unified Sports soccer matches in 2014 at the MLS All-Star game in Portland, Oregon. Since that time, ESPN and MLS have continued to expand the relationship each year by adding additional matches regular season schedule, offering more Special Olympics athletes and partners the opportunity to partake in a 1st Team MLS experience. The partnership between Major League Soccer, Special Olympics and ESPN leverages the strength of the soccer community and its fans to promote respect and inclusion of Special Olympics athletes.
Through the Unified Sports Soccer Exchange Program, Unified soccer teams from MLS cities travel to other MLS markets to compete in exhibition matches against their Special Olympics counterparts in that MLS market. Unified matches are scheduled in conjunction with MLS club matches, providing MLS fans with an opportunity to witness first-hand, the talents and abilities of Special Olympics athletes and unified partners. The exchange program not only provides Special Olympics athletes with top-level training and competitive experiences, but also excellent life experiences that they might not otherwise otherwise engage in.