Do you know Special Olympics?
Special Olympics is a global movement serving more than 4 million people with intellectual disabilities in more than 170 countries.
The mission of Special Olympics is to provide year-round sports training and athletic competition in a variety of Olympictype sports for children and adults with intellectual disabilities, giving them continuing opportunities to develop physical fitness, demonstrate courage, experience joy and participate in a sharing of gifts, skills and friendship with their families, other Special Olympics athletes and the community.
The Kennedy family
Inspired by her sister Rosemary, Eunice Kennedy Shriver founded Special Olympics. Rosemary had an intellectual disability. Eunice and her grew up playing sports with the Kennedy family. They swam, sailed, skied, and even played football together. But in the late 1950s and early 1960s, Eunice saw little justice in the way people with intellectual disabilities were treated. She saw they were excluded and routinely placed in custodial institutions. Often to be ignored and neglected. Although Eunice knew from Rosemary these people have many talents to offer. Eunice Kennedy Shriver believed that if people with intellectual disabilities were given the same opportunities and experiences as everyone else, they could accomplish far more than anyone ever thought possible.
On July 19 and 20, 1968 the first International Special Olympics Summer Games were held at Soldier Field in Chicago, Illinois, USA.
Alternating between summer and winter, the Special Olympics World Games are now one of the world’s largest sporting events, drawing as many, if not more, athletes than the Olympic Games. These World Games are organised every 4 years. The next World Summer Games are being held in Los Angeles in July 2015.
Special Olympics operates in seven distinct parts of the world. The games each Special Olympics Region holds are competitive and communal at the same time. The 2014 Special Olympics European Summer Games in Antwerp are one of these regional games. Regional games are also organised every 4 years.
Recognition of the IOC
In 1988, President Juan Antonio Samaranch honoured Special Olympics with the recognition of the movement by the International Olympic Committee. It gives the organisation the right to enlighten the Flame of Hope for international games. This recognition is largely supported by his successor, Dr Jacques Rogge, who - today - is the Chairman of the Honorary Committee of the European Summer Games in Antwerp.
Special Olympics Belgium Social integration, not only through sports
Belgium has approximately 165,000 people with an intellectual disability, which translates to 1 in 60 Belgians. To encourage this segment of the population to take part in sports and thereby promote social inclusion, Special Olympics Belgium was founded in 1979.
Special Olympics Belgium strives to provide all people with an intellectual disability of eight years and older with the opportunity to practice (an adapted) sport(s) and participate in a training program, in order to stimulate the integration persons with an intellectual disability in their communities.
Sports can truly improve the social acceptance of people with an intellectual disability. To learn new skills, to measure oneself against others, to function as a team, to feel satisfied after putting in effort: these positive experiences give individuals more self-confidence and make it easier for them to find their places in society.
National Games: the highlight for thousands of athletes
Each year the Special Olympics National Games are held during the Ascension Day weekend.
For the 3,300 participating athletes, these Games are the ultimate reward after months of training and preparation. Consistent training is one of the key selection criteria to participate in the Games.
Moreover Special Olympics Belgium organizes year round activities in various sports disciplines.
Belgian athletes can also participate in different international and regional competitions.
Work towards integration
Special Olympics Belgium works towards social inclusion of people with an intellectual disability through outlets other than sports. E.g. art exhibitions offer artists with an intellectual disability the opportunity to display their creative talents. Through the Healthy Athletes Program, Special Olympics Belgium wishes to educate the athletes with an intellectual disability on the importance of good health.
School Programs, inclusion through Unified Sports or the Athlete Leadership Program: they all work towards a better integration of athletes with an intellectual disability.