Early November, on the island of Bonaire, a Local Organizing Committee, together with the national government of the Netherlands invested in a new, innovative, and transformative model of development through sport programming for youth with intellectual and development disabilities. Through a 3-year partnership with the movement of Special Olympics, the Ministry of Health, Welfare and Sport of the Netherlands has supported the creation of the first-ever Special Olympics Dutch Caribbean Kingdom Games- an Olympic-type sporting event that brought together over 100 athletes with intellectual disabilities throughout national Special Olympics organizations in Aruba, Curacao, St. Maarten, and for the first time, in Saba and St. Eustatius. The Dutch Caribbean Kingdom Games benefitted greatly from the strong support of Special Olympics Bonaire and the regional Special Olympics Caribbean network, as well as key civil groups like Lions Clubs International and philanthropic leaders such as the Aruna Abhey Oswal Trust, based in Delhi, India. The Games saw moments of athletic excellence in bocce, football, swimming, track & field, baseball and beach volleyball.
The steadfast commitment to inclusive development across the Dutch Caribbean reflects an enduring dedication by the government to bolster the efforts of Special Olympics Netherlands, one of the most active national Special Olympics organizations across the world. Having successfully hosted a myriad of national and international competitions, Special Olympics in the Netherlands continues to engage a growing number of children and adults with intellectual disabilities, solidifying its position as one of the strongest members of the Special Olympics global family. By replacing stigma with status and empowering their athletes to take their rightful place on and off the field, the organization has become a beacon of inclusion.
Beyond scoreboards and uniforms, and as part of the cheers of athletes, coaches, and spectators alike, a strong connection is taking root in Bonaire and extending throughout the Dutch Caribbean islands. This connection speaks to the solidarity that the larger community has for individuals with intellectual and development disabilities. It also underscores the deep understanding that the Netherlands has for the talents, abilities, and contributions of this marginalized demographic- perhaps the most marginalized disability subset across the world.
One of the goals of the Special Olympics Dutch Caribbean Kingdom Games was to make sport more inclusive than it was. The Local Organizing Committee incorporated local welfare organizations and sports federations to create a legacy on Bonaire in which individuals with an intellectual and development disabilities have more possibilities for year-round participation in sports and movement. This initiative ensures that inclusion becomes an integral part of the social journey of all youth, fostering an inclusive mindset, experience base and vision for generations to come. At a time when our politics, pace of technology and social dialogue seem often dominated by tribalism and disconnection, the Dutch government presents the world a compelling counternarrative. Harnessing the power of grass-roots sport and community building, they uplift those on the margins, and in doing so, all of us.
Through the inaugural implementation of the first-ever Special Olympics Dutch Caribbean Kingdom Games, the nation of the Netherlands has offered the international community with a definitive ‘best practice’ in bringing inclusive development to all communities, to all demographics, in a way that is cost effective, cost efficient, engaging, and socially appealing.
The investment in Bonaire serves as a key milestone in the focused efforts of the Special Olympics movement to build back national organizations after the devastating effects of COVID.It has offered the Caribbean an opportunity to reengage, reconnect and recommit to inclusion through sport and in doing so, revitalize the vision of all youth to create a future where everyone belongs.
Across Bonaire, for 4 days this November, the world was able to see that inclusion is a contact sport, and the athletes of Special Olympics are ready. The Games help empower those most on the margins of our communities, neighborhoods, and nations. The Games support the global vision of the United Nations in ensuring that we “Leave No One Behind.” The Games highlight talents and contributions to enrich our world, and bring with it the solidarity the global community needs. The Games teach the world that through coming together- on the pitch, in the classroom, in the workplace- a new world emerges where everyone has an opportunity to shine.
Let us declare the Games, open.