Hong Kong's first Down syndrome football tournament

Hong Kong's first Down syndrome football tournament

CNNGo reports back from the first football competition in Hong Kong for people with Down syndrome

 It’s late afternoon at the Hong Kong Football Club and 21-year-old Sean Brown, who had just scored the first goal of the day, is racing around the pit, yanking up his shirt, and pummeling his chest with yodels of joy. 
 
It’s a timeless victory routine, but the game down at the pitch that day was no ordinary match. 
 
Sean and some 100-odd players and parents from Hong Kong and the United Kingdom took part in Hong Kong’s first Down syndrome football tournament on May 28. 
 
It may have been a special needs tournament but there were some impressive antics seen on the pitch -- headers, decisive goals and elaborate celebratory dances. 
 
Staging the tournament was a considerable feat, according to volunteer coach Tim Nicholls. "One of the difficulties that Down syndrome kids face is they tend to get very emotional and can’t concentrate well. Space is also a difficult concept for them, so they may find changes of direction and control of the ball hard." 
 
"But it’s amazing what some of the players can do. People don’t have much expectation but some guys are really good," said Nicholls.

 
 
Joining the fray that day were the Hong Kong Down Syndrome Association Dragons, the Hong Kong Football Club Crusaders and the Fulham Badgers, with the Dragons scoring a 2:1 victory over the Crusaders in the final match. But while the court-side tension was palpable, everyone went home with a medal in their hands and huge grins on their faces. 
 
Football is a surprisingly effective treatment for people with Down syndrome, said Nicholls, explaining that it is a comprehensible game that encourages teamwork, fitness and communication. 
 
"Everyone understands the concept of scoring a goal," said Nicholls. "I’ve been coaching the Hong Kong Down Syndrome Association team for two years and from the feedback from parents, the kids’ confidence has grown, and they are more sociable." 
 
"It’s important for people with Down syndrome to exercise as much as possible because they have lower metabolism and are usually slightly overweight."

 
 
"I play on the football squad because I like to improve," said 20-year-old Lam Hin Heng. “In Hong Kong, Lam Hin Heng and [Dragons goalie] Wong Hon Cheung are the ultimate football duo. When we score a goal we hug each other and are good brothers.” 
 
"Football makes my son behave better because he gets to vent his energies. I compromise with him -- when he behaves well, I let him play," said Lam Hin Heng’s mother Winnie Kan. 
 
"I think discrimination towards Down syndrome individuals had really improved in the past 20 years in Hong Kong, thanks to a lot of mixers organized by charities, and media reports. People now know that people with Downs are mild mannered, and are more tolerant towards them."

Two-time scorer and avid rugby fan Sean Brown, pictured left, helped name his team -- after New Zealand rugby team Crusaders.

Orla Thomas, 10, is the youngest member of the Fulham Badgers. The squad is the first Down syndrome football team in the world.32-year-old post office assistant Wu Hoi Yue, right, has been playing football since 1995. "I made a lot of friends on the squad," he said. "Apart from football I’m also learning Cantonese opera and lion dance. I play the lion’s head."