A Special Olympics gold medallist from St Albans will help take the ethos of the groundbreaking tournament to the world after being chosen as a ‘global change ambassador’ this week.
Matt Dodds, 24, has been selected as one of two athletes from Great Britain to work with the Special Olympics movement to tackle negative attitudes and stigma surrounding people with intellectual disabilities, and those who need extra support in their day-to-day lives.
He was a member of the Great Britain football team which won gold at the competition’s most recent summer games in 2015, and netted a spot-kick in a penalty shoot-out during the final against Bangladesh.
Matt will take up his role in March at a summit in Austria, running alongside the world winter games.
While there, he will be one of 80 young leaders from across the world to meet with the aim of creating a ‘generation unified’.
The group will address the often divisive nature of sport in segregating those with disabilities, and look to address how this can be changed through a number of initiatives.
Matt has already amassed a significant amount of knowledge in speaking about his experiences with the movement, and said he was delighted to be chosen to represent his country.
Matt said: “I am honoured to have been chosen to attend the World Youth Leadership Summit in Austria in March. “To represent Special Olympics Great Britain at this summit - after the incredible journey I have been on with them - means a great deal to me.
“During the summit, I hope to promote Special Olympics’ Play Unified campaign, which is trying to help people with and without intellectual disabilities to work, live and play closer together.”
In addition to his on-the-field achievements, Matt has already taken on the role of Special Olympics ambassador, to raise awareness of the movement and how it can create a more inclusive atmosphere across disabled sport.
He is also an assistant coach at an athletics club in the area and has worked with St Albans City at youth level.
Matt said he was determined to push a message of positivity through his new role, which he and Inverness athlete Gemma Maclean will use to represent Great Britain’s disabled athletes.
They will also take forward the message of ‘Play Unified’, which puts people with and without disabilities together on the sports field.
He adds: “Gemma and I want to encourage students to focus on individuals’ abilities instead of highlighting their disabilities. “With the help of Play Unified, we want to motivate students to break barriers and change the perceptions around people with an intellectual disability in their school. “We hope to raise awareness about the need for inclusion for all.”