MOSCOW – A young Russian athlete with Down syndrome will help the referee with the coin toss that decides which team kicks off the 2018 FIFA World Cup opening match between Russia and Saudi Arabia.
Angelina Makarova, age 12, appeared on Wednesday at a media event alongside her mother Olga Makarova at FIFA’s press center in Luzhniki Stadium in Moscow, where the opening match is to be played Thursday.
“Angelina started swimming when she was very young, and since then she never stopped doing it, and took classes at the swimming federation for people with intellectual disabilities when she was eight,” Olga said.
The young athlete was all smiles while posing for photographers, but more shy when it came to answering journalists’ questions, so her mother responded on her behalf.
Angelina’s unique experience comes as part of a campaign by Coca Cola (an official sponsor of the World Cup) to raise awareness among people for full integration of people with special needs into society.
Angelina has already won national swimming competitions for children with Down syndrome.
In addition, she practices gymnastics, attends theater classes and trains in a sports group for children with Down syndrome, according to her mother.
Other young athletes with special needs will participate in 11 additional World Cup matches, where they will take to the field carrying the national teams’ flags.
The 2018 FIFA World Cup will be organized in Russia from June 14 to July 15.