Spanish girl with Down's syndrome excluded from volleyball team

Image source, Esplugues Volleyball Club/Instagram
Image caption,
Laia (in glasses) discusses tactics with her teammates at the Esplugues Volleyball Club

A 14-year-old girl with Down's syndrome in Spain has been told she cannot play for her team in a national volleyball competition because she is a year older than her teammates.

Laia, who has played for the Esplugues Volleyball Club in Barcelona for eight years, is too old to meet the criteria.

The rules of the Spanish Volleyball Cup mean she can still participate, but in a team of a different age group.

The decision has angered her parents and teams have threatened to withdraw.

Laia's mother, Marta Montserrat, said the organisers of the competition should make an exception for the "common benefit" of allowing her daughter to play with the team she has been a part of since 2011.

"The goal with [players] of these groups is to promote personal growth and self-esteem, to promote teamwork," she wrote in a series of Twitter posts, pointing out that there has never been an issue with Laia playing in her usual league.

Image source, Esplugues Volleyball Club/Facebook
Image caption,
Esplugues Volleyball Club says it has formally requested Laia's participation in the tournament

Other teams participating in the tournament offered their support and said they had no objection to Laia playing with her club. Some said they would withdraw if she was not permitted to play for her team.

"If Laia doesn't play, neither do we," tweeted the president of the Madrid volleyball team, Dani Virumbrales.

The news also sparked a backlash on social media, with users posting tweets with the hashtag #LaiaJuega (#LaiaPlay) and questioning the fairness of the decision to prevent Laia from joining her friends on the courts.

The Esplugues team told the BBC on Wednesday that the president of the Spanish Volleyball Federation, Agustín Martín, told them to present a formal written proposal requesting Laia's participation in the competition, which he would "personally consider".

In an earlier statement (in Spanish), the federation said a request was made by phone by the Esplugues club to include "a cadet-age girl in a children's category".

"The worker who answered the call gave the competition rules approved by the governing bodies... which do not allow an athlete to participate in categories below their age, regardless of suffering from Down's syndrome or any other circumstance," it reads.

The Spanish Volleyball Cup takes place during the Christmas holiday season. All teams affiliated with the federation can participate.

Down's syndrome is a genetic condition that typically affects someone's learning or physical ability - it might take a person with the condition a little longer to process information, carry out a task or learn new skills.

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