In no other sports competition in the world you can see so many scenes of sportsmanship, contagious joy and those hugs that fill the soul as in LaLiga Genuine Santander. Olga de La Fuente, director of the Fundación LaLiga, knows it very well and tells us why LaLiga Genuine Santander is the best league in the world.
How did the idea of the Liga Genuine Santander arise?
It was in 2017, when the Genuine captains of the Nàstic de Tarragona, Rubén and Álvaro, personally passed the proposal to Javier Tebas. The president of LaLiga was delighted from the beginning with the idea and the captains’ enthusiasm and this is how we started working on the project.
The first thing we did was to meet with the 7 clubs that already had teams with people with intellectual disabilities to create a working group. When the project was ready, we passed it over to the 42 clubs of the professional football league and the answer was very satisfactory; 18 clubs out of 42 joined the first season of LaLiga Genuine Santander. In the second season, 30 teams took part in and this year they are already 36. We have tripled the number of teams in just 3 years!
Who are the Genuine players?
They are boys and girls over 16 years old with a degree of intellectual disability greater than 33%. The competition is mixed and that is very important because from la Fundación, we encourage and promote the participation of female gender in all our projects.
How is the competition structured?
The competition is in the format of 8-a-side football and the games are divided in 4 parts of 10 minutes. The competition has 4 phases that take place in 6 different sports venues. The hosts of the second phase will be Sevilla FC (31st of January and 1st and 2ns of February) and Real Betis Balompié (28th-29th of February and 1st of March). UD Las Palmas will host the third phase (27th - 29th of March) jointly with Sporting de Gijón (24th -26th of Abril) and the grand finale will be held at the Athletic Club sports city (29th -31st of May).
At the Liga Genuine Santander there are always two winners…
Yes, in la Liga Genuine both the competitive part and the fair play are rewarded. We all like to win, right? They like it too. But, in addition, we value positive attitudes and sportsmanship: team spirit, fair play, respect, diversity… All these aspects punctuate each game and at the end of the competition, we have a sports champion and a fair play champion.
In the last two seasons the fair play winner has been Athletic Club de Bilbao, something they are proud of and it shows their obvious commitment to sportsmanship.
LaLiga Genuine moves emotions and values different from those of professional football….
LaLiga Geniune moves a lot of emotions thanks to the added value that its players bring. They are genuine, sincere, special… And despite being very competitive, because they are, to them, sportsmanship and the values of sport are essential. Seeing how they hug each other all the time, how they even encourage the rival or how they celebrate each goal with their coaches and family members, it is incredible. They set an example and a life lesson on how we all should be genuine.
Should professional football be inspired with these pure sport values?
This interconnection between professional and Genuine teams is already taking place in most clubs. They are experiencing an amazing integration within their sports structure and there are lots of first squads that have set periodical training sessions with the Genuine teams.
Ones have a lot to learn about the technical part and the others, I assure you that learn a lot about team spirit and friendship. It is a perfect symbiosis.
Beyond the four weekends the competition lasts, do Genuine teams train and play throughout the year?
When we created LaLiga Genuine Santander it wasn’t only for these boys and girls to take part in this ad hoc competition we wanted clubs joining our project to meet a series of requirements, among which, to integrate the Genuine team into their sports structure meaning that they have a coach, a weekly training session, an insurance, that they feel supported by their clubs… In short, that they are another category as respectable as any other.
I would like to emphasise that the involvement of the clubs has been absolute. They have integrated Genuine teams and thanks to it; this boys and girls feel supported by their clubs all year long and this is very important.
Taking part in the 4 phases of the league, travelling around Spain and sharing this experience with other teams is what has uplifted this project even more. But, I insist, the most important role is the one that clubs are playing by integrating Genuine teams in their sports structure.
Hence, during the year they take part in other competitions and local tournaments, in addition to the weekly training sessions. They make friends, they have a sense of belonging and this is wonderful.
What are the goals of Fundación LaLiga with the Genuine project?
First, normalize the practice of football among boys and girls with intellectual disabilities. And, secondly the true commitment of professional football with this collective as agents of social change.
Other aspects are being worked on within the Genuine project. We are promoting training programs for technical staff, and with Universia specific university scholarships are being granted for people with disabilities. In addition, we have signed an agreement with Telepizza to incorporate Genuine team players in their stores to promote their social inclusion.
From all you have lived with the Genuine boys and girls, is there any personal story that has especially touched you?
I couldn’t choose only one story, because there are so many human stories in LaLiga Genuine Santander! What I would highlight is the impact that this has in the families. The happiness that fathers and mothers feel when they see that their children find their place, that they have friends, that they have an illusion and that, in addition, with the project they find personal and professional growth. It is one of those projects where you truly feel that you are transforming the lives of so many people.
Thank you very much, Olga. Long live LaLiga Genuine Santander!
Photos: LaLiga Genuine Santander