“Let’s get back in the field and show everyone that we are still here, and nothing will stop us. We athletes are the real messengers of peace, unity, and love.”
Special Olympics Malta swimmer, Sam Micallef, shared this powerful message ahead of the Special Olympics Malta Invitational Games 2022, a multisport competition for athletes with intellectual disabilities, which took place from 14 to 18 May.
Involving 23 delegations from across Europe and beyond, these Games were the first international Special Olympics event in Europe since the breakout of the COVID-19 pandemic. Special Olympics Malta welcomed athletes to compete in six different sports disciplines: aquatics, athletics, bocce, bowling, football, and table tennis.
Lydia Abela, President of Special Olympics Malta, reflected on the Games. She noted, “This event showcased the willpower, the strength, the determination and the commitment of people with intellectual disabilities. Malta was honored to showcase these Games. For our nation, it was the perfect opportunity to show how much we value unity and to celebrate diversity and inclusion. The athletes had a mission in Malta—that mission was to show the world that sport has the power to bring people together and it is better when we are together!”
Anna Calleja, National Director for Special Olympics Malta, added, “Malta reaffirmed itself as a trailblazer of inclusion. Individual COVID-19 pandemic and the Games were a great opportunity for all of our athletes.” She continued, “Thanks to the financial and technical support of the Maltese public authorities, these were a truly memorable games that place Malta as the natural home for disability inclusion and ready to usher in a new era of true social inclusion in Europe and beyond.”
Organized in partnership with the Government of Malta and Sports Malta, the Invitational Games offered Special Olympics athletes the chance to meet with their international competitors for the first time in almost two years.
Speaking about the Games, Reagan Lowman, a bowler with Special Olympics Texas said, “I’ve loved it because it gives me a chance to do something that many people thought I would not be able to do and it gives me freedom.”
Special Olympics Israel coach, Gon Tzuri, added, “You can find the spirit of Special Olympics here at the Games in Malta. It’s an amazing place—the perfect day, perfect weather, perfect people. For me, the most important thing is that the athletes have enjoyed the Games. By just being here, they have already won.”
Outside of the sports arena, the event also offered free Healthy Athletes health screenings covering FUNfitness, Special Smiles and Fit Feet. These screenings allow Special Olympics athletes to check in with healthcare professionals who have received training for treating people with intellectual disabilities and they are carried out in a relaxed and welcoming atmosphere.
The Special Olympics Malta Invitational Games also showcased the activities of the Special Olympics Motor Activity Training Program and Young Athletes. While the latter focuses on those athletes still too young to participate in the regular competitions, the former is designed to prepare athletes with severe or profound intellectual disabilities and significant physical disabilities for sport-specific activities appropriate for their ability levels.
The Special Olympics Malta Invitational Games also addressed inclusion and the situation for people with disabilities on an academic level. On 11 May, Special Olympics hosted an University Forum—in which professors, students and experts discussed the most pressing issues people with intellectual disabilities face in sport and in the educational system.
As the Games came to a close, David Evangelista, President and Managing of Special Olympics Europe Eurasia, noted, “These Games celebrated the human spirit and human dignity—they celebrated the ideas of Europe: unity, inclusion, and solidarity. COVID-19 has been such a disrupting element around the world, but these Games have shown that we are now ready to usher in a new era of inclusion in Malta, in Europe and beyond.”