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Special Olympics Looks to Build on Gallagher Deal in Changed Landscape

Athlete kicking a ball. Text reads: The confidence to dream big

Special Olympics, the international sports body that represents athletes with intellectual disabilities, claims that its new partnership with Gallagher, the US insurance company, will go beyond the 100,000 events it runs each year, and is hopeful of attracting new sponsors even in the current uncertain global climate.

The organisation is also close to announcing a new host for its Special Olympics World Winter Games in 2021, after Sweden withdrew late last year.

Earlier this month, Gallagher signed a multi-year agreement to become an elite global platinum partner of the Special Olympics, which entails direct support for global events and year-round activation in regional markets.

In particular, as the official sponsor of ‘International Sport and Coach Programming’, the company will focus on support for volunteer coaches involved in training more than 5 million athletes in over 240 local programmes around the world.

The sponsorship will be integrated into ‘The Gallagher Way’, the ethos reflecting the company’s culture and shared values it promotes to its customers.

In an interview with Sportcal, Kelli Seely, the chief marketing, communications and development officer of Special Olympics, said: “It is an excellent example of a multi-faceted partnership between a non-profit and a corporation.”

Of the Gallagher philosophy, she said: “They took a look at that culture and their values and reviewed a lot of organisations before finding one that aligned with theirs.”

It is claimed that what particularly appealed to the company was Special Olympics’ commitment to inclusion and supporting people with intellectual disabilities in their daily lives, while the sports body was able to fill an important category as it did not have an insurance partner at the global level.

In focusing on coaching, Seely said: “What they’re trying to do is really help our athletes face the future with real confidence.”

She added: “Special Olympics has approximately 500,000 coaches around the world. They are volunteers and play a huge role in the year-round activities of our athletes. They need proper training and having coaches that have gone through education, and the approach from Gallagher and their dedication to best practice, is going to be very valuable.”

Special Olympics was founded in 1968 by the late Eunice Kennedy Shriver, the US philanthropist and sister of former president John F. Kennedy, and, now chaired by her son Tim Shriver, is involved in 32 Olympic-style sports and organises more than 100,000 events each year.

However, the new sponsor is expected to play a wider role, with Seely saying: “We’re always looking for companies that are aligned with our values… then you build on what you learn together. We’re looking at Gallagher to help with online training and workshops with our coaches.”

The company plans to engage its employees and customers in the activation of the sponsorship, and enlist the support of national associations, in the more than 170 countries in which Special Olympics is active.

Seely said: “It goes beyond the events and into the inclusion of athletes in the workplace and schools and in ensuring that they have the best possible health treatment.”

However, Gallagher will still be involved in prominent events such as the 2021 Special Olympics World Winter Games and the 2022 Special Olympics USA Games.

Special Olympics was dealt a blow in December when the Swedish towns of Are and Ostersund handed back the hosting rights to the World Winter Games.

The Swedish Parasport Federation had withdrawn its support after the country’s government dropped a pledge to provide $6 million towards the $14-million cost of staging the games, which are expected to involve more than 2,000 athletes from 105 countries.

However, Seely said that Special Olympics was now “finalising a new host for the next World Winter Games.”

Gallagher, which already has an international outlook in sport, notably as the title sponsor of English rugby union’s Premiership Rugby, joins a list of prestigious companies already supporting Special Olympics.

The other global platinum sponsors, which customarily contribute more than $1.5 million per year, include founding partner and soft drinks giant Coca-Cola, Bank of America, sports broadcaster ESPN and software powerhouse Microsoft.

Seely stressed that like other rights-holders, Special Olympics had evolved its commercial programme over the years so that sponsors were now “purpose-driven.”

She said: “Initially Special Olympics had the traditional sponsorship outlook as to its relationship with partners. It was very transactional, they paid their money and put up the signs. Now commercial partners want to find an organisation that aligns with their values and demonstrate these to their customers.”

This applies to Gallagher, for which she said: “It is not just a tagline. It is ingrained in their being. They’re not just saying it, they’re doing it.”

Seely is optimistic about attracting further sponsors, claiming there are discussions on this “every day,” and that the values for which Special Olympics stands are becoming increasingly important to brands.

She said: “Most of our larger partners and ones who have been with us for a long time are about inclusion, diversity and striving to try your best and the pursuit of excellence.”

Like all sports bodies, Special Olympics has been impacted by the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, which has resulted in the postponement and cancellation of a multitude of events at domestic, continental and international level.

Seely said: “The crisis we’re facing is not one we anticipated and does impact on our athletes quite seriously. For at least the next 60 days there will be no physical events.”

However, she stressed that the organisation is looking to reach out to athletes online, saying: “Though people are isolated and quarantined, they can work on their fitness on a daily basis.”

Furthermore, it is felt that the current experience of the general population will boost awareness of the challenges felt by people with intellectual disabilities, and lead to greater commercial support.

Seely said: “Today, I think we are feeling isolation, and are in some ways frightened, and we’re getting a glimpse of how these athletes feel on a daily basis. So, we really believe that more companies will want to be involved with us.”

Last September, ESPN renewed its role as the global broadcast partner of the Special Olympics World Games until 2027.

The eight-year extension covers the World Games, World Winter Games and USA Games, all of which are held every four years.

This article originally appeared on Sportcal at

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