Russian supermodel and philanthropist Natalia Vodianova has said that the World Cup will leave a lasting legacy for children with special needs in Russia, allowing them to better integrate into society with the help of sport.
Vodianova was taking part in a charity football match on Red Square on Monday dedicated to the 50th anniversary of the Special Olympics. The game was sponsored by Vodianova’s Naked Hearts foundation and was aimed at raising awareness of disability.
The match featured World Cup winning footballers Lothar Matthaus and Laurent Blanc, as well as two-time Olympic figure skating champion Evgeni Plushenko, playing alongside children with learning difficulties.
In an exclusive interview with RT, Vodianova talked about Russia's success at its home World Cup, and her charity work which has been impacted by the football showpiece.
“It’s great to have this equal score, it’s very symbolic, I guess,” Vodianova, whose sister is autistic, told RT after the game. “Because we played not to win. In fact, the Special Olympics’ motto is ‘May I win? But if I fail to win, let me do my best while trying to do so.’ It’s not about victory.”
Talking about the Naked Hearts fundraising organization, Vodianova said that it had provided help to hundreds of children with learning difficulties.
“We provide free support services for families raising children with special needs. We have trained thousands of specialists. We have put 600 children who were considered uneducatable [unable to learn] back to school. And they are very successful. Some of the kids are non-verbal, but it doesn’t mean they can’t study and make progress.”
Mother-of-five Vodianova said that she was impressed by Russia’s performance in reaching the quarter-finals of the World Cup, something few would have expected before the tournament.
“I was here at the opening game but then I supported our team in Paris with my family. But I was there with all my heart. It was incredible. I am so proud of Team Russia, they played fantastic football. I think they conquered hearts of the biggest skeptics.”
The Naked Hearts founder expressed hope that the World Cup will make an invaluable contribution to the development of charity and social programs in Russia helping children with special needs to fulfill their dreams.
“What is happening today is very important. Now thousands of boys and girls will be motivated to take on that sport [football]. And of course when it comes to kids with special needs, they are not an exception, they also want to play football. The World Cup is going to have impact on them,” Vodianova said.
“Coca Cola has donated $250,000 to Special Olympics Russia to develop sports programs for kids with special needs in Russia. It’s very important, it means we include them also in this dream of playing football,” she added.
Discussing Western media reports which had portrayed Russia as a hostile and unwelcoming nation before the World Cup, Vodianova said that the well-organized tournament would help to change people’s perceptions of the host country.
“I can see it very well living abroad. Even some friends of mine would ask me, ‘Is it safe for me to go to Russia?’ Of course it’s safe. You know, Moscow is much safer than Paris. I have no problem walking at night in Moscow with friends. But I wouldn't feel comfortable [in the same situation] in Paris.”
“Look what’s happening all over the world in terms of terrorism. Big events like this they always pose a threat. And we know how to deal with this kind of threats in Russia. And I’m sure we are going to host more global events like the World Cup.”