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Special Olympics Charges Into Next 50 Years with Renewed Purpose

50th Anniversary turning point for global movement as work across the world focuses on inclusion through sport, health, youth and school engagement

Known worldwide for providing sports training and athletic competitions for people with intellectual disabilities, Special Olympics will celebrate its 50th Anniversary year by broadening its purpose to focus on ending discrimination against people with intellectual disabilities worldwide and creating inclusive communities. The strategic shift will amplify the impact Special Olympics is making through its programmatic work in sports, health, and youth and school engagement to bridge gaps in access and opportunity for a community that comprises 3 percent of the global population.

Since Special Olympics’ inaugural event on July 20, 1968, following many years of advocacy and action for social change, the organization has grown to include more than 5 million Special Olympics athletes across 172 countries, with 80 percent participating outside the United States. Both China and India each have more than 1 million athletes. Despite the success and joy of Special Olympics sports, people with intellectual disabilities still face gross neglect, stigma, and marginalization.

The largest global amateur sports organization and global public health organization dedicated to serving people with intellectual disabilities, Special Olympics is pushing forward as the “Global Inclusion Movement,” advocating for greater inclusion in all aspects of life including sport, health, education, and employment. With athletes at the forefront, Special Olympics is moving from an organization for people with intellectual disabilities to a social inclusion movement led by Special Olympics athletes.

“For 50 years we have been breaking down barriers and creating solutions for real problems that people with intellectual disabilities face in the areas of isolation, inactivity and injustice,” said Special Olympics Chairman Timothy Shriver. “We need to accelerate this work in our next 50 years, but also demonstrate how our athletes, people with intellectual disabilities, are teachers of empathy and inclusion. The world is a divided place and attitudes of mass destruction are tearing communities apart. But we know first-hand how the Special Olympics experience -- and our athletes -- bring people together in ways that erase the lines of division. There is no more urgent time for us to launch an Inclusion Revolution of the heart and mind.”

This Special Olympics 50th Anniversary campaign is engaging governments and businesses around the globe, along with top sports, entertainment, health, education, finance and media organizations. Olympics celebrity supporters are also joining the campaign for inclusion.

At the heart of the campaign, Special Olympics is engaging and empowering young people, creating a Unified Generation working toward an inclusive future. For nearly 10 years, the Special Olympics Unified Schools Program has provided classroom and community experiences that reduce bullying and exclusion, combat stereotypes and engage young people in activities that lead to improved behavior and school climate. As part of this work, Special Olympics will build and launch the Special Olympics Institute for the Unified Generation, aimed to support the creation of 40,000 new Unified Schools and Universities around the world.

Celebrating 50 Years with Eye on Future

As Special Olympics celebrates its 50th Anniversary this year, a series of major events will showcase inclusion.

The Special Olympics USA Games in Seattle from July 1-6 will have the largest Unified Sports participation in Special Olympics history. Unified Sports pairs athletes with intellectual disabilities and those without on the same team.

Then, from July 17-21, Special Olympics will return to Chicago, home of the first games in 1968, for a nearly weeklong celebration. On July 17, the first-ever Special Olympics Unified Football (Soccer) Cup tournament will begin, featuring 24 teams (eight women’s teams and 16 men’s teams) comprised of people with and without intellectual disabilities from around the globe. The invitational tournament’s final games will take place on July 20.

Also, on July 20, Special Olympics will honor its history and celebrate its future with the dedication and lighting of the Special Olympics Eternal Flame of Hope monument outside Soldier Field, home of the first games, to symbolize the ongoing mission of inclusion for people with intellectual disabilities. On July 21, the first-ever Global Day of Inclusion will be held at Soldier Field, a family event open to all Chicagoans and global visitors celebrating the Special Olympics 50th Anniversary. Later that evening, Special Olympics will host the Inclusion Fest Concert at the Northerly Island amphitheater, featuring internationally acclaimed music acts. Concert details will be announced in March.

The focus on inclusion will be amplified globally through the Special Olympics World Games in March 2019 in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates.

“Abu Dhabi and the UAE have made promoting rights for people with intellectual disabilities a priority for more than 20 years, making huge strides in integrating people with intellectual disabilities in the workplace and in schools,” Shriver said. “Hosting the Special Olympics World Games is a way for the country to reinforce its long-standing commitment to creating inclusion. This is also an important showcase in a strategically important region of the world for millions of people with intellectual disabilities and their families.”

The 50th Anniversary celebration will culminate in July 2019 at an event to be announced later this year.

About Special Olympics

Special Olympics is a global inclusion movement using sport, health, education and leadership programs every day around the world to end discrimination against and empower people with intellectual disabilities. Founded in 1968, and celebrating its 50th Anniversary this year, the Special Olympics movement has grown to more than 5 million athletes and Unified partners in more than 170 countries. With the support of more than 1 million coaches and volunteers, Special Olympics delivers 32 Olympic-type sports and over 108,000 games and competitions throughout the year. Special Olympics is supported by individuals, foundations and partners, including the Christmas Records Trust, the Law Enforcement Torch Run® for Special Olympics, The Coca-Cola Company, United Airlines, The Walt Disney Company and ESPN, Microsoft, Lions Clubs International, Bank of America, Essilor Vision Foundation, the Golisano Foundation, Safilo Group, and TOYOTA. Click here for a full list of partners. Engage with us on: Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, Instagram and our blog on Medium.

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