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Why the Special Olympics World Games is something to celebrate

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Here at Challengers, we are getting very excited about the upcoming Special Olympics World Games, taking place from the 14th to 21st March in Abu Dhabi. As a charity that celebrates inclusivity and removing the barriers to play so that everyone can join in the fun, we are massive admirers of the Special Olympics movement and what it sets out to achieve.

With the Opening Ceremony not far away, we thought we’d use this blog to talk about what the Special Olympics is, why the movement’s core message is so important, and hear about the positive impact locally.

How did the Special Olympics begin?

Eunice Kennedy Shriver, sister of John F. Kennedy and mother to Maria Shriver, was the person behind the Special Olympics. She saw sports as something that could unite people from all walks of life and wanted to create an environment where people with intellectual disabilities could show off their talents and skills.

1,000 athletes took part in the first Special Olympics World Games in 1968, and since then both the event and awareness of what it sets out to achieve has grown and grown! This year’s World Games will feature 7,500 athletes taking part in 32 sports in its programme, which includes athletics, floorball, swimming, and ten pin bowling to name just a few of them.

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Promoting inclusivity

The Special Olympics is about more than just competition, and this is reflected in its motto:

“Let me win. But if I cannot win, let me be brave in the attempt.”

A core part of the Special Olympics is to promote sports for all abilities all-year round. Across the world (including here in Great Britain) there are hundreds of Special Olympics organisations hosting training sessions and sports groups that are helping to change the perception of young people with intellectual disabilities. 4.2 million athletes from 170 countries take part in training every year.

By breaking down the barriers to sports, more people can meet new friends, train and play together, and most importantly, have fun!

American speed skater and eight-time Winter Olympic medallist (two of them golds) Apolo Ohno is a global ambassador for the movement and the values of inclusivity that it promotes. He told The Guardian in an article last year: “Sometimes in sports, we get wrapped up in purely winning, purely losing, purely the sponsorship… but Special Olympics is different. All these athletes really want to do is have fun and compete and skate and run and lift and bike. It’s [athleticism] in its purest form. I think there’s a lot that we can learn from that.”

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Our local Special Olympics heroes

There are a handful of Team GB members taking part in this year’s games in Abu Dhabi from Surrey and Hampshire. Be sure to follow us on Facebook and Twitter throughout the duration of the games, as we will be cheering on our local superstars!

To get a sense of what the Special Olympic movement is achieving on a local level, we highly recommend reading Hannah Kemp’s story (by her father Jon) on Special Olympics Surrey’s website. After watching a documentary prior to the London 2012 Olympics, this inspired her to take up athletics. As Jon explains: “Since her early teens, she has suffered from low self esteem connected with ongoing issues about her weight and appearance but her success at the Special Olympics has given her mood a big boost and a determination to succeed.”

We wish Hannah and everyone else involved with Team GB the best of luck in Abu Dhabi! Keep an eye on our website as we’ll posting a round up of some of our favourite moments from the 2019 World Games towards the end of March.

All images for this blog courtesy of Special Olympics World Games Abu Dhabi 2019.