The Special Olympics Kennedy-Shriver Legacy

The Special Olympics Kennedy-Shriver Legacy

Throughout history we can point to men and
women who change the way we think and the way we live. In 1962 Eunice Kennedy Shriver launched Special
Olympics from her own backyard, inviting kids with intellectual disabilities to test their
sporting talents. Today her son Tim drives the organization. But he hasn’t simply taken over from his
mother, he’s calling on world leaders to change the way we all engage with people with
intellectual disabilities. People with intellectual disabilities have
dreams, we want to be included, we want to be part of the community. One of us and not one among us. The future of our movement is to be the world’s
greatest movement promoting human acceptance and universal human value that the world has
ever seen. What does that mean? That means I’m accepted
in a group, it means that people respect me, they don’t ignore me, they have expectations
and they believe in me. It means that I am empowered to contribute.
I think coming to Athens is all about thinking about Plato and thinking about Aristotle and
what they all had, it seems to me, in common is that they all believed there was some circle
of human participation, that there were these great ideas in humanity. They all said we
have to build republics and we have to do it ethically and we have to do it with a hero’s
determination to seek great goals. None of them saw our athletes as belonging; none of
them saw a person with Down syndrome as being a rightful leader. It was hard for me to accept the fact that
I have Down syndrome. But it became easier when I joined Special Olympics; I discovered
that I was not alone. Our athletes represent a challenge to intolerance;
they represent a challenge to prejudice, to fear, to human misunderstanding. They are
the worlds and histories most deeply wounded victims of prejudice. There may be obstacles but they can be overcome
with open hearts… And changing minds. Dr Tim Shriver, Chairman of the Special Olympics
Movement, has spoken of big dreams to rally the world to support people who live with
intellectual disability, to bring tolerance and unity. In 2011 at the Special Olympics
World Games in Athens the organization welcomed more than 7,500 athletes from 180 countries
and as the Games were opened some of the world’s most powerful leaders walked beside the athletes.
It was the most significant gathering and support of people with intellectual disabilities
that the world has ever seen. The beginning of what Special Olympics is calling a revolution.
It’s the legacy of the late Eunice Kennedy Shriver. I grew up in a very high-powered family some
would say, a very wealthy family some would say. It was easy to think that what mattered
was things, power and wealth and access to resources. It was easy to believe as a kid
that those kinds of things were the most important thing you could have. Our athletes have challenged
me to be reminded that they are not, what matters is what’s inside you. David Egan is a global messenger is his home
state of Virginia. We want to be useful members of our society
because we want to show our abilities. He’s one of hundreds of people who’ve
been trained and empowered through the Athlete Leadership Programme and who now speak on
behalf of others who live with an intellectual disability. Throughout the Games, David and
other global messengers challenged people’s perception of disability demanding a fundamental
change in the way society treats people. I want to welcome you to this extraordinary
array of talents, which has come from all over the world to lend their gifts that come
from the heart in order to remind us that if we play more unified, if we dance and celebrate
and sing more unified, we might some day learn how to take those lessons into learning how
to live unified. The World Games was the largest international
sporting event for 2011, 22 sports in all. While Eunice Shriver instigated Special Olympics;
her son Tim passionately drives the organization. The athlete global messengers, all of whom
have an intellectual disability, are increasingly involved across all areas of the organization. I’m part of the evaluation team. So, what
we do, there’s five of us and we’re five different people from around the world. I’m
the athlete representative and what we do is we go around and we evaluate the entire
World Games. We are off to one of the events for tennis.
Community is Special Olympic athletes playing with regular athletes, people with non-disabilities
learn more about the athletes who do have disabilities and so they’re able to understand
a little bit more about people with disabilities and what they can do. A person with an intellectual disability or
in our case, a person with an intellectual difference, has gifts to bring to every conversation,
to every discussion, to every goal setting if you will. We believe very much in the diversity of gifts.
There was guesses from scientists who say that there are 2,000 or 3,000 forms of intellectual
difference. As long as we’re opening the circle of participation in everything we do,
whether it’s sitting down to debrief how well did such and such an event run or how
well did we do in our fundraising, or how well did we do in our communications, or how
well was volleyball managed, all those conversations. We need lots of points of input in order to
get a point of consensus on what to do next. Diversity is important because it teaches
acceptance in a way. If people look at it correctly with an open-minded view, with an
accepting view, it teaches us that we are all different in our own way. Ben is at the open water swimming. We mostly just observe the spectator area,
the athlete area, to see that they’re all safe. It was the athletes themselves who insisted
this be introduced as a sport at these games. There are more than 3.7 million athletes signed
up to Special Olympics, almost 50,000 events are held every year. But Tim’s mother dreamed
of a much greater impact. It’s hard to know with my mother she was
so tough and she was so determined. I think in some ways when I’ve talked to her she
was surprised and her eyes would roll and she’d go, “Wow.” She’d hear a story
of a new programme in a war torn country or she’d hear stories of a doctor who’d gone
to a war zone to do a medical screening for our athletes and her eyes would dance with
amazement. And then other times I’d say, “Well, we’re achieving this or that”
and she’d look at me with those steely eyes and say‘ That’s not enough, you know we can
do better than that.’ She said in Chicago in 1968, “We should have a million athletes”,
I asked her about that and she said, “Well, it was just a place holder.” India is one of the largest strategic partner’s
of Special Olympics. There are now more than 1 million athletes in the programme, young
people who were previously excluded in many ways. The numbers and that still remains our biggest,
if there are 2/3 hundred million people with an intellectual difference in the world, to
brag about 3.7 million is a joke. Until we have the critical mass of participation and
engagement in our community that count us in the tens of millions, we’re not going
to be a serious force in the world, we’re going to be an occasional message maker. Taylor Doyle is an Australian long jumper
and 100 metre sprinter. All you’ve got to do is just hit that board
and then run really fast and jump. Like every athlete here she’s trained long
and hard for the Games. Yet Special Olympics believe many of these athletes could achieve
much more if sporting organizations assisted with coaching expertise. Special Olympics has a clear strategic plan
to drive a fundamental change in society. Here in Athens, Unicef is signing an agreement
to partner Special Olympics to advocate for health care, education, recreational sports
and employment policies that benefit children with intellectual disabilities. Special Olympics is rebelling against exclusion and dignity,
discrimination, prejudice and social cruelty. Special Olympics thus gives children with disabilities equal chance to
make the most of their lives, a chance to play in the same playgrounds as other children,
to learn in the same classrooms, to live and grow in the same communities and to become
productive members of society. But around the world children with disabilities cannot
do so, they’re excluded, marginalised, stigmatised, shunned, their needs are to often unmet, their
dreams are often not realised and their potential is to often unfulfilled. Children with disabilities
are more likely to be malnourished, that’s why the Healthy Athletes is such a great programme,
and less likely to receive medical care, they’re at higher risk of abandonment and abuse. Of
all children they are most likely to be left out of school, millions are needlessly institutionalised
and as adults they are more likely to live in poverty and that is dam wrong. We’re here because we need to imagine a
different future. We need to imagine a future where every child with a circle of belonging
and inclusion is universal. But Special Olympics has never done well with agreements, has never
done well with paper. We’ve done really well with executing and so today our commitment
is that we will sign an agreement, we will sign an agreement with a veracious and relentless
determination to make action out of the agreement, and we will have no satisfaction if in one
year, or two years, or three years, we put this agreement on our walls and have nothing
to show for it. This is on behalf of children with intellectual
disabilities throughout the world. This one event symbolised the shift in global
views and the power of Special Olympics to drive change. You take one strong member to lead the nation,
to lead the community, to lead the group, to lead the teams. It takes one voice to speak
out loud, not just to speak, but they have to be loud and they have to be heard. And
that word will encourage us to make a strong difference, especially for some of those kids
as we call them special kids that have been rejected because of their intellectual disability. Dikembe Mutombo is one of the greatest NBA
stars of all time and a board member of Special Olympics. He’s just one of many sporting
celebrities who lend their name to the movement. World champion skaters Apollo Ohno and Michelle
Kwan, and track hero Edwin Moses, and Olympic gymnast Nadia Comaneci. Certainly since I’ve been part of the Special
Olympics Movement on a full time basis I felt the momentum go from a sense in which we were
doing something good in which we had to continue, to a sense in which we were doing something
revolutionary that we had to exponentially grow. I go and I listen to parents, I listen
to the athletes, I listen to volunteers, they’re all talking the same language, they’re talking
the language of revolution, they’re talking the language of changing others, they’re
talking the language of growth. They’re not doing it because it’s in a strategic
plan, they’re not doing it because they got a memo, and they’re doing it because
they feel it. Tim Shriver and his late mother secured the
support of some of the most powerful heavy weights of business to partner Special Olympics. Tim is strong, Tim has done it and continued
to do it and is willing to do it again and again all over in the world…
Here at the tennis the global CEO of Coca-Cola, Muhtar Kent, is hanging out with the athletes.
Despite running a massive global organization he sits on the board of Special Olympics. It’s a new and better experience for me
when I’m playing with athletes, whether it’s hockey or basketball or tennis like
today and different games, different years, different towns, different cities. And it’s
just one of incredible camaraderie, it’s not about just the sports, it’s about incredible
camaraderie, incredible command of unity, of friendship, and of bonding…
When I was at the beginning of my career with the Coca-Cola Company and Coca-Cola system,
I have in every country, in every region, when I was on the ground, implementing marketing
programmes for our company, I supported Special Olympics. We’ve expanded our business into about 32
markets around the world and we’ve been trying to say to all our new managers, if
we go into a country we say, the first sponsorship we do is lets adopt the Special Olympics Team
here. So if you take El Salvador, Panama, Honduras, any of these countries, and now
in the Pacific. Special Olympics is invaluable to us because
it all comes back to PNG’s purpose. Our purpose is to improve the lives of consumers
and we want to do that by reaching more consumers in more parts of the world more completely.
So, in that sense, there’s kind of a commercial reason to being there, but it takes you to
higher order, it takes you to the idea of how do we improve the lives of consumers. I am a fan, I’m sold, lock, stock and barrel,
I am, I believe in this. I’ve seen what it’s done for the kids, I’ve seen what
it’s done for myself, I’ve seen the volunteer network. Everyone involved in this group,
I’ve never met such a positive group of people. When we went to the Pacific in 2006 I said
to our new CEO, Christian, I said, “Christian, what about the Special Olympics we’ve got
to sponsor them” and he said, “What are you talking about?” and then he googled
and then he came back and said, “Oh yeah, I kind of half understand it.” And then
under his own initiative, and the team’s initiative, they had these games one day,
one Saturday, and they showed the Board a video about a month later and everybody was
crying. If I was to contrast to do different sponsorship,
that would be the major take out, is that in rugby when we’re doing well we’re all
jumping up and down and high fiving, and when the team doesn’t do so well… With Special
Olympics, we’re high fiving when we’re coming last, it doesn’t matter, it’s insignificant
to the greater cause. These are the young Samoan athletes Digicel
supported. That there is a big group of people in Samoan
society who’s needs are under served, that are being kept at home, and not been given
these opportunities to actually grow. By the time the Samoan team left their tiny
country people lined the roads in a display of support. When I first met these kids months ago I sensed
that there is a lack of confidence in them, but I’ve seen this transformation, this
human transformation. Samoa is typical of many developing nations,
people with disabilities haven’t been a priority, and they’ve tended to be isolated,
leading lives with few opportunities. In the case of Samoa we kind of led the way
because the government didn’t get it, at the first step they didn’t understand what
we were talking about. And then they all came on board and all the different arms of the
government came onboard and they recognised…hey this is going to do so much for people, it’s
going to liberate people, it’s going to use sport as a catalyst to change all opinions
in Samoa. Now I dare to dream about changing the way
people think of us, changing the perceptions, opening doors for people with disabilities
to shine and overcome the disabilities. Not only on the court but in the workplace
– in all levels of our society. Throughout the Games there were high level
strategic conversations and at every table athletes themselves debating with representatives
of Unicef and the United Nations. This is the woman that Tim Shriver says secured his
respect for the men and women of Special Olympics. In 1966 I started running, I still run today,
I’ve done more miles on my feet than some of you have in your cars. But life was different
for me, it was an angry life and I’m going to tell you straight up, I’m going to tell
you the truth, if it wasn’t for sport I would probably be in prison now. I was a very,
very, angry child; I didn’t know how to cope because people didn’t accept me. But
I remember in 1970 I became a partner of Special Olympics. Loretta Claiborne had a very big influence
on me. When I had young children she came and would visit with us and I remember taking
her to talk to my daughter’s 2nd Grade class. And I can remember her being in front of those
little 2nd graders saying, “When I was in your grade people use to call me a retard
and people use to make fun of me and people use to beat me up and exclude me.” And I
was watching my daughter in that classroom and listening to her and at some level, maybe
as a father, it hit me that she had suffered so much from simple things – name calling,
being pushed aside, not being in the click, and yet she’d grown up to be this extraordinary
human being, she was so full of wisdom, she was so smart, so stable, so grounded. And I look at the Olympics, the people who
compete for money, I look at the Olympics as always the very best…the race isn’t
always to the swiftest it’s to those who take part, and I had my turn to take part
as many of our athletes. But there’s a little problem with us taking part, to expand our
games, to expand our roles as athletes, to be our best, we need some help, we need some
support, we need some help with coaching. It’s the second major conference of the
Games, this time sport federations committing to support Special Olympics. In our movement we start, we begin, with the
idea that we have a developmental goal. We have a social goal. Many sport organizations
begin with a sport goal, our organization began with a social goal. There’s an evolution within the sports movement,
increasingly they’re having to consider the society, which within which they operate.
The sports themselves, the events, they cost millions, even billions, for the countries
who host them. We can’t just operate these events without thinking of the communities
they operate in. So, it’s a real privilege that increasingly now we have the signing
of the proclamation between the Softball Federation, Ten Pin Bowling Federation, it’s just the
start of where we see things are going. But the greatest thing really is the technical
expertise and I think that’s one where we’ll be beginning is bringing in those coaches,
the top quality coaches, get all those things that perhaps Special Olympics doesn’t have
yet, that we really truly hope that we can work together in the future, it’s a privilege
to work with you. We are one of those which started with sporting
goals and at some point in time after creation of our organization back in 2005, we embraced
the concept of social change and social responsibility and it was kicked off by the fact that the
United Nations made a call in 2005, the International year of Sports and Physical Education, which
we followed through and we decided to create and find a strategy for social responsibility
and embrace a concept of football in our case being a worthy tool for social development. Personally this inspires me, three years ago
when I was in the USA, and we must bring this message out of and through our world. This is the most distinguished gathering of
sport organizations in support of Special Olympics in our history, right on this stage.
We have never in the past commanded, if you will, the attention, or been understood, accepted,
or been welcomed, fully by the international governing bodies of sport in the world by
the United Nations and it’s leaders in the world, by icons…around the world, all together. The organization has a real chance now to
actually go like a catapult because so much has been done now in building the whole infrastructure
and getting more and more teams to come and celebrate. But I think there’s a lot more
work to be done and I’m sure within the next five years the Special Olympics Worldwide
Organization will accelerate. The gift of the human spirit knows no boundaries,
it is not about the mind, it is not about the words one speaks, it is not about the
logos, if you will, it’s about the spirit. And we are here to play in the home of the
Olympic movement, the home of the democratic movement, with a very powerful intention to
lead a revolution even they might not imagine. 3 million athletes in 175 countries – that’s
some achievement. And we’re part of it, next month’s Special
Olympics trans Tasman is hosted by Wellington. In Samoa people with disabilities are in dire
need of the most basic equipment. Some Rotarians from Ashburton thought they could make a difference.
I too have probably been a bit unaware of the underlying poverty of the Pacific Islands. I am missing all things of my life, to enjoying
my friends. Tickets are now on sale for the 2011 Attitude
Awards. This televised black-tie event was created as a way to recognise and celebrate
the achievements of people living with a disability. For more information about the awards and
how to attend the fantastic night, visit our website

4 Replies to “The Special Olympics Kennedy-Shriver Legacy”


  2. WRONG about past of Athens slogan………..did you not notice in most or in fact every mural paintings, stories and historical documentaries… never ever mentioned about people with disabilities…..simplest descriptions of one limb person…. a blind being……sickness of a person….so wrong about special Olympics of today of comparing ancient Olympics and/or slogans from past…….nice slogan but way back then(from ancient times on) meaning of the word and also the thought process of understanding slogan of equality was/is immensely different….. almost like one planet understand differs with another planet understanding of the same one word………but sees the meaning slightly different…………..git it…….think about it………….look it up………..

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