The efforts of clubs across Europe to support their local communities was recognized with the annual One Team Awards, which was held this year as a remote event on Tuesday. One Team is Euroleague Basketball's social responsibility program, using the power of basketball to teach valuable life lessons and give important opportunities to disadvantaged people at risk of social exclusion.
The annual awards ceremony is designed to celebrate the successes of the program, which was carried out last season by all 42 teams in the Turkish Airlines EuroLeague and 7DAYS EuroCup. For the second consecutive year, the winner of the Gold Award was Anadolu Efes Istanbul, which worked with a group of special athletes to assist their personal development and integration into the community.
Efes's gold-standard program was carried out in collaboration with psychologists and physiotherapists from the Municipality of Beylikduzu, and focused on how to overcome different problems using life skills such as communication, problem-solving, self-esteem and teamwork.
Utku Yusuf Ozciger, the club's Digital Media & Marketing Supervisor and One Team Manager, said: "I feel very proud for my club and my colleagues. The Municipality had been working with special needs athletes before and they had experienced coaches who were already working with the kids. Together with our knowledge in basketball and communication, we combined to create a great One Team program to integrate special athletes into the community using basketball skills.
"As a club we are the social entity of the Anadolu group of companies, and we have the responsibility to add value to our community. We think this is so important, and one of our missions as a club. Basketball clubs don't only play basketball – they have to also give back to society."
Tuesday's other award winners were Olympiacos Piraeus (Silver), AX Armani Exchange Milan (Bronze) and Joventut Badalona, which was recognized as an outstanding newcomer to the program by receiving a one-off Special Judge's Award, added just for this year due to the exceptional situation.
Olympiacos ran two One Team programs last season, helping children with disabilities and another group in closed child-protection institutions. Penny Giovanovits, the club's CSR Manager, said: "We feel very fortunate to be running the same project with all the big clubs in Europe. We share the same philosophy: to give people opportunities in life. I would like to give congratulations to all of the clubs, because any help we can give to people during these difficult days is very important. We are very proud to receive this award."
Milan also carried out two separate programs, one working with children from challenging social backgrounds and a second helping young people with autism. Milan's One Team Coach Marilisa Zanini said: "Throughout the season we tried to give the kids great memories and great moments. The kids worked hard, they learned how to work with their teammates and how to give more trust to the people who were helping them. They really appreciated the help of the ambassadors, who gave them great advice and dreams to follow."
Joventut focused on improving health standards in vulnerable communities, and club president Juan Antonio Morales said: "One Team has been a great experience because it gave us a chance to use our sporting expertise to help people away from basketball. As a club we are well known for working with kids, and we are a big club in a small city, a city with a lot of needs, so One Team is a great opportunity to pay back into our community the support we receive from them."
The other teams shortlisted were FC Barcelona, TD Systems Baskonia Vitoria-Gasteiz, Lokomotiv Kuban Krasnodar, Unicaja Malaga and Zalgiris Kaunas.
Although those clubs received the plaudits, the judges were keen to emphasise that the overall standard of the program was very high, with many teams improving the quality of their sessions before they had to be prematurely ended due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Jordi Bertomeu, Euroleague Basketball President and CEO, said: "Now more than ever before, it is vital that our players, coaches and clubs stay connected with our local communities, and this is something we are able to achieve through the fantastic One Team program. I would like to congratulate not only today's award winners, but all 42 clubs in the Turkish Airlines EuroLeague and 7DAYS EuroCup who have worked so hard to bring people together through the power of basketball."
It was also announced on Tuesday, after an inspirational talk from Milan star Gigi Datome on his experiences as a One Team Ambassador, that next season's instalment will feature a brand-new award: the One Team Ambassador Award, which will be introduced to recognize the great work carried out by players and coaches in support of the One Team program.
One Team, supported by Turkish Airlines as the One Team Founding Patron and with the collaboration of Special Olympics as Proud Partner, uses basketball to achieve meaningful social impact in our communities across Europe and is supported by every club in the Turkish Airlines EuroLeague and 7DAYS EuroCup.
Since its founding in 2012, the One Team program has already helped more than 22,000 participants through its various team-focused projects.