Research on Unified Sports® - Inclusion at eye level

2022-12-19 In 2023, the Special Olympics World Games will take place in Berlin. In so-called UnifiedSports®, mixed teams composed of people with and without intellectual disabilities compete against each other. Prof. Dr Jessica Süßenbach and Dr Steffen Greve are investigating how Unified Sports® can be competitive and inclusive at the same time.

Jessica Süßenbach and Steffen Greve with students in front of the Olympic Stadium in Berlin ©Jessica Süßenbach
Jessica Süßenbach and Steffen Greve with students in front of the Olympic Stadium in Berlin

Basketball and handball are tactically and technically demanding sports. "The Unified rules stipulate that the athletes should achieve a similar level of performance. In practice, this is often not the case," says Dr Jessica Süßenbach, Professor of Sports Education and Sports Science. The teams are made up of athletes with intellectual disabilities and partners without disabilities: "The latter tend to hold back in the game and see themselves more as supporters for the athletes. This is often problematic in competition," explains Dr Steffen Greve, research assistant at the Institute for Movement, Sport and Health.

The research project "Universal Competition Development in Unified Sports® in Handball, Basketball and Floorball at Special Olympics Germany (UWentUS)" aims to develop strategies so that Unified Sports® can be competitive and inclusive at the same time: "The goal is equal participation in which all players are challenged and can give their best. A category of difference such as "mentally handicapped" should play as little role as possible on the playing field," explains Jessica Süßenbach.

In cooperation with the Catholic University of Applied Sciences in Freiburg and the University of Tübingen, the researchers are using videography to examine the actions of the players. "In addition, we have already conducted interviews with players, referees and coaches at the National Games that took place in Berlin this year. The researchers from Lüneburg are particularly interested in handball. An imbalance often becomes visible here: on the one hand, partners hold back in order not to take advantage of the athletes. On the other hand, players can dominate a match when the score is close in order to still win.

 "But there are also sports with simpler rules, such as floorball," says Jessica Süßenbach. This form of indoor hockey is also being researched as part of UWentUS, is much less complex in terms of technique and tactics and is already frequently played at schools.

The competition offers are to be further developed together with Special Olympics Germany (SOD). Officials, coaches, athletes and partners as well as the SOD Science Committee, chaired by Prof. Dr. Florian Kiuppis from the cooperating Catholic University of Applied Sciences Freiburg, will also be involved in this process. The researchers would like to transfer their results to other sports and introduce them into university teaching.

The Federal Institute for Sport Science is funding UWentUS with 255,000 euros.


  • Prof. Dr. Jessica Süßenbach
  • Dr. Steffen Greve