With a poster of himself on the wall, medals, photographs and signed t-shirts, Inazio de la Torre and his dad, Rafael welcome Sports Gazette virtually into his room. He is 16 years old and the youngest player in Athletic Club Fundazioa.
This mixed team plays in the Liga Genuine Santander, which is a new initiative giving people with learning disabilities the opportunity to play football at a professional level.
This pioneering project started three years ago and now has 36 teams playing in the league in what could also be described as a pioneering way.
Points are added up from the scores of the matches and from the Fair Play strategy, which inspires a respectful atmosphere between the teams. Athletic Club Fundazioa has won the Fair Play in the last two editions.
De la Torre started in 2014 in a project called ‘Ahalegina’ (Endeavour in Basque), organised by Athletic Club for children between 12 and 18.
“It is the first step before joining the team”, Rafael de la Torre confirms. This group helps the participants’ psychomotor skills through multisport activities. Inazio and another seven team mates have made it to the Genuine squad this year.
The matches are divided over six locations and the teams play three games in one weekend.
“The presentation is on the Friday, with an opening parade and an official welcome by the president and sponsors. The games are held on Saturday morning and afternoon and on Sunday morning,” Rafael explains.
The first match was played in Tarragona from 15 th -17 th November, while the next venues will be Sevilla twice, Gijón, Las Palmas de Gran Canaria and Bilbao.
“They travel on their own, with coaches –Esteban Feijoo and Eli Ibarra- and technical staff”, Rafael points out.
But, Athletic Club Fundazioa is the first team in the league with a proper fan club. “It was an idea of the parents, and the players who are not playing also come along.”
A fan of Athletic’s striker Aritz Aduriz, Inazio plays in the same position and likes to celebrate his goals with his friends.
“The thing I like the most is to have fun with my friends.” But football is not the only sport he practises; his dad admits to having a very sporty son.
The youngster also plays golf, swims and is part of a hockey team. “I have lots of medals from swimming and hockey”, Inazio says. And Sports Gazette was able to confirm it.
The Getxo Stick Hockey club, founded in 2014, plays on grass and became the first team in the Basque Country, Spain, to include people with learning disabilities into the sport. With an age range of nine to 22, the team plays in national competitions against older teams.
Inazio has been playing in the team for seven years and tells Sports Gazette how more people have started playing and there are now over 20 members.
When asked about the future, Inazio says he wants “to be a football player and a chef”, rice with tomato sauce being his speciality.