Special Olympics Bharat's Road to a Million

mars 29, 2013

Vision and commitment are some of the attributes that shaped Special Olympics Bharat’s success, as it registered its first millionth athlete in March 2013. Chairman Air Marshal Denzil Keelor reflects on the journey that took them there.

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Dr. Tim Shriver (right) with Bharat's athletes at Host Town in Greece for the 2011 Special Olympics World Summer Games.

How it began

“A small body of determined spirits fired by an unquenchable faith in their mission can alter the course of history.”
                                           - Mahatma Gandhi

Special Olympics Bharat’s journey started with the Goa Summit in May 2004 when Special Olympics International (SOI) agreed to support our strategic growth program of registering and training 100,000 athletes per year, and covering the costs of establishing a National Office to administer the Program.

Equipped with basic funds at this opportune time, Special Olympics Bharat then looked towards the Government for recognition as a sports federation, crucial to achieving our target of involving a million athletes. This was leveraged by the visit of Dr. Tim Shriver, Ray Lane and Bart Conner to India at this opportune time, and they met the Prime Minister and the Minister of Youth Affairs and Sports to garner support for our cause. In January 2006, Special Olympics Bharat was granted the status of a National Sports Federation in the ‘Priority’ category for the development of sports for people with intellectual disabilities.


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Bharat places utmost importance on quality coaching and creating competition opportunities for its athletes, from local to international level.

Creating Sustained Growth

From there, our team created vast opportunities for our athletes, enabling them to participate in organized sports from local to international level. We were also able to develop the tools for coach training – quality training for coaches leads to quality training of athletes – to ensure sustained athlete growth. The large number of medals won by Team Bharat in the Special Olympics World Summer Games and Special Olympics World Winter Games over the years is proof of this.

In 2010, Special Olympics Bharat was also recognised as the Nodal Agency by the Government, giving us the overall responsibility for the conduct of Sports for people with all disabilities. One of the greatest benefits of this Ministry of Youth Affairs and Sports (MYAS) scheme was that it gave us access to 150 districts each year over the next 4 years, and funding organized sport training. This ensured that we covered all 600 districts in India. The paradigm shift resulted in our success, demonstrating the impact of broad basing.

With SOI’s financial support and the Government’s recognition of our sports program, we continued to consolidate and grow. In 2010, at the Global Summit for Strategic Growth, we committed to registering 100, 000 athletes each year – aiming to reach 1.25 million athletes by 2015. Given the population of people with intellectual disabilities in India, this would be only the tip of the iceberg.


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Bharat is inspired by their latest milestone, continuing to reach out to the rest of 29 million people with intellectual disabilities.

Winning the Million

On 11 March 2013, Special Olympics Bharat registered its millionth athlete. This is an extraordinary achievement by our Area Directors and the team of Trainers, Coaches, Volunteers and Families, putting in sustained hard work, sincerity, deep commitment and sacrifice to make this happen. On this occasion, there can be no greater tribute to them than Dr. Tim Shriver’s blogpost, titled “We Won the Lottery”. 

In the words of former Special Olympics Asia Pacific President & Managing Director David Rutherford, the factors that contributed to our success can be broadly classified into five: visionary and realistic leadership, committed souls, strong Government support, modest but crucial SOI support, disciplined, detailed planning and brilliant execution led by a small team backed by a huge 'volunteer bank'. This volunteer bank is the backbone of the movement and the most decisive factor that determines the outcome of our efforts.

The one million mark is not just a milestone for all of us at Special Olympics Bharat, but also an inspiration to keep working for our athletes; inspiration to reach out to the rest of 29 million people with intellectual disabilities; and an inspiration not to give up. 


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