THE Special Olympics started in 1968 and boy, has it come a long way since then. The games ended earlier this week and Team GB had its most successful ever games with 179 medals, with the football team being the first British team to win a tournament since 1966!
Eunice Shriver Kennedy founded the games to celebrate her own sister, Rosemary, who was born with a learning disability. As children the two girls ran, skied, sailed and played ball games with the rest of their siblings blissfully unaware that Rosemary’s contemporaries were locked away out of sight and out of mind, or indeed that Rosemary was different to any other child.
Like us here at ubu, Eunice saw no reason why her beloved sister shouldn’t do the things the rest of the family did or why other people with learning disabilities shouldn’t have access to life’s opportunities, particularly on the sports field.
As they grew up, Eunice became something of a campaigner. She knew, like we do at ubu, that people with leaning difficulties have skills and talents to offer. Eunice also believed in justice for all, but saw little justice in the way people like her sister Rosemary were often treated.
Today, the Special Olympics is a massive movement featuring more than 6000 athletes from 165 nations, united in a common cause. As Patrick McClenahan, President and Chief Executive said ahead of the opening of the 2015 Games in Los Angeles.: “These Games will change the lives of people around the world who are mistreated and excluded because they’re ‘different’.”
This year Team GB’s amazing haul of 179 prompted the president, former Southampton and England football manager, Lawrie McMenemy to call for more funding for Learning Disability Sport in the UK.
We’re right behind him. Although the UK Government gave £2million in funding for learning disability sports, there is no guarantee that will continue, yet the benefits are immeasurable.
Take Bolton cyclist Keira Byland. She won three gold medals and thought that the best bit would be winning – but it wasn’t. “Just being here was fantastic. I represented my country, I shared so many magical moments and I met so many inspirational people!” And that’s from a triple Olympic gold medallist.
Keira is one of many British gold medallists. In all there were 69 individual or team golds in the tally and already some athletes are preparing for the Paralympics in Rio next year.
Sport is one of life’s great levellers, but here at ubu we think more could be done to help promote integration. As Tim Shriver the chair of the Special Olympics and the son of the founder, Eunice asked, why doesn’t every school have an inclusive sports team?
This year there is the first ever mixed-ability rugby world cup being played here in Bradford, England. It gives athletes from all backgrounds and abilities the chance to play in the same field and share experiences that transcend just winning.
For real progress there must be greater integration and what better place than on the sports field? The mixed-ability rugby world cup is a small start, but one we applaud. It is only when we have a better understanding and inclusion across abilities that as a society we will make any real progress.
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