Launching The Virtus Academy

Virtus – the International Federation for sport for athletes with an intellectual impairment – will today formally launch the Virtus Academy, a global hub of research, training and education.

The occasion will be marked by an online presentation with delegates from across the Virtus membership, universities and academic institutions around the world and colleagues and partners from the International Sport Federations.

The aim of the Academy is to grow the scientific evidence base to inform decision making and strategy, to support coaches and volunteers through improved education and training, and to bring together resources and guidance into a single hub.

It will operate in 5 key pillars:

  • The Athlete Lounge – providing resources and support to athletes on issues such as healthy eating, mental wellbeing and more
  • The Coaches Area – providing high quality, sport-specific and other resources to optimize their coaching practice
  • The Resource Library – featuring the latest academic and published resources and research to support the development of sport
  • The Research Hub – undertaking leading research in the field of sport for athletes with an intellectual impairment
  • The Eligibility and Classification Zone – providing training and guidance to psychologists, and supporting International Federations to develop classification and train classifiers

Project Manager, Dr Debbie Van Biesen said “For the first time, the Academy brings together the existing knowledge and expertise in this area, but also we will grow the evidence base to ensure that everything we do is driven by science and the most current data available. Virtus’ mission is to drive the development of elite sport for athletes with an intellectual impairment and the Academy is a key part of our strategy to achieve that”.

Prof. Jan Burns MBE – Virtus’ Head of Eligibility and a leading advocate of the initiative – said “I’m delighted to see the Academy come to fruition today after so much hard work by so many people. Together with Virtus’ work to deliver high-level competition for the world’s best athletes and our many projects and activities around the world to develop opportunities for people with an intellectual disability, Down syndrome and autism to get involved and excel in sport, this new addition to our programme ensures Virtus is at the forefront of scientific and research, education and training”.

To coincide with the launch, the Academy website has gone live with resources and materials available for download, including the RAID database (a searchable database of existing guides and research) and more, and is expected to grow quickly as more resources, training events and guides are added.

In June, the Academy will be launching its first research study which aims to understand the funding available to sport for people with an intellectual impairment across the world. Produced in collaboration with Sheffield Hallam University and funded by the European Union, the study aims to understand how different countries support both the participation in sport and elite athletes with an intellectual impairment, and the impact that the global pandemic has had. Van Biesen explained ‘we already know that funding to sport is being cut in many places as a result of the pandemic and sport for people with an intellectual impairment is one of the first places that these cuts take place. This research will help us ensure that people with an intellectual impairment are not unfairly targeted’.

The Virtus Academy launches on 31st May and can be visited at