International leaders in sport, government and social rights organizations commit to work together to find development opportunities, through sport, to improve lives of people with intellectual disabilities
ATHENS, GREECE – Today, for the first time in the history of the Special Olympics Movement, leadership from all corners of the global sports community gathered in one room at Special Olympics World Summer Games ATHENS 2011 to address how Special Olympics utilizes the power of sport to create social change and inclusion and to promote development and peace.
The UN Secretary-General’s Special Adviser on Sport for Development and Peace, Wilfried Lemke, told Special Olympics Chairman and CEO Tim Shriver, “We are just in the first steps of this movement you call a revolution,” said Lemke. “I’m a marathon runner and I know that we are not more than 1000 meters in a long run to bring persons with disabilities to the forefront." Lemke continued with conviction that, “We all have to have these people in the center of our society and not exclude them! We see you and your powerful work and of course I tell everybody in the world wherever I am that you can believe me that this is one of my priorities, to work to bring these people to the center of our society. The joy and the happiness and the pure joy of sports, that is the core of the meaning that I can see here in Special Olympics - that is the reason why you can be absolutely sure, Tim, that the United Nations family will follow you on your way!”
Special Olympics called for key partnerships with international organizations, such as the UN, and with the global sports community, specifically with International Sport Federations, to help to collaborate in their contribution towards the achievement of the United Nations Millennium Development Goals. “We (Special Olympics) started with a social goal and then sport emerged as the means to right an injustice,” said Shriver.
Shriver and Lemke were joined by an impressive group from the worldwide sports community including Don Porter, International Softball Federation (ISF) President and Chair of SportAccord’s Spirit of Sport Award Committee, Ingrid Beutler, SportAccord, Manager, Sports' Social Responsibility, Liza Barrie, UNICEF, Chief, Civil Society Partnerships, Edwin Moses, Multiple Olympic Gold Medal Winner and Laureus World Sports Academy Chairman, Federico Addiechi, FIFA, Head of Corporate Social Responsibility, Loretta Claiborne and Special Olympics Board Member and athlete. The press event was emceed by Olympic medalist and Special Olympics Board of Directors Vice-Chair Bart Conner.
Porter spoke about the need for the international sports community to rally together behind Special Olympics. Also on-hand at the event was Kevin Dornberger, President of the World Tenpin Bowling Association, with whom Special Olympics signed an official proclamation with yesterday. Porter will sign an ISF proclamation with Special Olympics tomorrow and said “There really ought to be a movement with all the international sports federations. Let's try to find a way to help Special Olympics. It’s one of the best kept secrets in the world.’ Later this week Mr. Theofanis Tsiokris, 2nd Executive, Vice President of the Fédération Internationale de Volleyball (FIVB) and Mr. Brady Lum, President of Special Olympics, will come together to sign a third proclamation at the 2011 Special Olympics World Summer Games.
Panelists explained their organizations varying support of Special Olympics - Moses spoke to Laureus’ long-standing commitment to Special Olympics, particularly with Unified Sports; Beutler recognized Special Olympics recent win of the prestigious SportAccord ‘Spirit of Sport’ Award and recognized that there is a revolution in the sports world, where sports organizations have to consider the societal aspects of their events; Addiechi spoke to FIFA’s support of Special Olympics around the FIFA Football for Hope initiative, particularly with Special Olympics Namibia; and Barrie called attention to the MOU signed between Special Olympics and UNICEF earlier today.
Finally, as Conner said, they “saved the best for last” and Loretta Claiborne, Special Olympics legendary athlete and member of Special Olympics International Board of Directors, spoke inspiring words. “It wasn’t about a dollar for me. In 1966, I started running and I still run today. I have more miles on my feet than some of you have on your cars,” joked Claiborne, before turning serious. “Sport is about being better every day. It teaches discipline. Improves health. I know through sport it’s what you can do. Sport changes lives and unites people.”
Also in the room to support the cause were basketball legend and humanitarian Dikembe Mutumbo, Walter Trogär of the International Olympic Committee, Olympic Gold Medalist and Special Olympics International Board Member Nadia Comaneci, Senator the Honorable Jan McLucas, Parliamentary Secretary for Disabilities and Carers and The Democratic Republic of Timor-Leste, Minister of Social Solidarity, Maria Fernandes.
The event showcased that Special Olympics transforms communities from closed to open from intolerant to accepting ones and by using sport to accomplish this, has come to represent the goodness, power and true spirit of sport.
Special Olympics World Summer Games Athens 2011 are happening 25 June – 4 July. For the next 10 days, more than 7,000 Special Olympics Athletes from nearly 180 countries around the world will compete in the largest international multi-sport event of the year, featuring 22 Olympic-type sports.
About Special Olympics
Special Olympics is an international organization that changes lives through the power of sport by encouraging and empowering people with intellectual disabilities, promoting acceptance for all, and fostering communities of understanding and respect worldwide. Founded in 1968 by Eunice Kennedy Shriver, the Special Olympics movement has grown from a few hundred athletes to more than 3.7 million athletes in over 170 countries in all regions of the world, providing year-round sports training, athletic competition and other related programs. Special Olympics now takes place every day, changing the lives of people with intellectual disabilities in places like China and from regions like the Middle East to the community playgrounds and ball fields in every small neighborhood’s backyard. Special Olympics provides people with intellectual disabilities continuing opportunities to realize their potential, develop physical fitness, demonstrate courage, and experience joy and friendship. Visit Special Olympics at www.specialolympics.org. Engage with us on: Twitter @specialolympics; fb.com/specialolympics; youtube.com/specialolympicshq, and specialolympicsblog.wordpress.com.
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