Created on 23-03-2015 at 11:55 AM
The scenes just before kick-off in the Bundesliga meeting between Bayern and Borussia Mönchengladbach were dominated by smiles, laughter and warm greetings as the teams were escorted onto the Allianz Arena pitch by 24 kids, youths and young adults born with Down Syndrome. They were moments to bring a lump to the throat, but the occasion also had a more important purpose in terms of promoting awareness and understanding of the condition.
“Down Syndrome kids are wonderful people, emotional, joyful and loveable. We want to show everyone that they’re important and valued members of the community,” commented FCB captain Philipp Lahm. Saturday 21 March was World Down Syndrome Day.
One of the 24 had a special experience of his own during the half-time interval. Sixteen-year-old Michael Freudlsperger took on Bayern keeper Tom Starke from the penalty spot – and won! The passionate amateur player scored two of his three spot-kicks, earning tumultuous applause from the stands and hearty congratulations from Starke and Bayern mascot Berni.
FC Bayern and Borussia Mönchengladbach also laid down a powerful marker in support of diversity and tolerance. Matchday 26 was declared Integration Day in German football under the motto “Mach einen Strich durch Vorurteile” (Draw a line through prejudice) as the nation’s professionals united in support of peaceful coexistence between cultures, on the field and in the stands. Prior to kick-off against Gladbach, the teams gathered behind a banner calling for an end to xenophobia and in favour of mutual respect.