The Global Athlete Congress – Leaders for Inclusion

A female athlete leader holds a microphone as she talks at an event. People in the background listen to her.

Special Olympics, in partnership with Kantar, conducted research on the role of attitudes in promoting inclusion in friendships, communities, health, education, and jobs. This Global Attitudes Survey, conducted from October 2017 to March 2018, was given to 1,500 people in 17 countries to measure attitudes toward the inclusion of people with intellectual disabilities. The survey looked at implicit and explicit attitudes that people around the world have toward the rights and capabilities of those with intellectual disabilities, as well as perceptions about and behavioral intentions regarding community inclusion. One key takeaway from the research was that words like “trustworthy” and “friendly” are frequently attributed to people with intellectual disabilities, but so are more negative words like “lonely,” “isolated,” and “dependent.” Moreover, the words “leader” and “peer” are less frequently attributed to people with intellectual disabilities. This discovery makes the Global Athlete Congress, where athlete leaders with intellectual disabilities come together to debate topics and go through leadership trainings, even more important.

Over the course of the past 50 years, Special Olympics has grown from purely a sports organization to one that promotes inclusion in every aspect of life. At the Opening Ceremony of the 1987 Games, Eunice Kennedy Shriver, Special Olympics founder, told people with intellectual disabilities that they have earned the right to do anything they wanted to do. In that speech 31 years ago, Mrs. Shriver told the athletes, “The right to play on any playing field, you have earned it. The right to study in any school, you have earned it. The right to hold a job, you have earned it… You have taught us that what matters is not power or politics, weapons or wealth, what truly counts is the courageous spirit and the generous heart.” Those words have never been truer in 2018. From 12 to 16 November, 65 athlete leaders from over 56 countries will embody Mrs. Shriver’s words. These leaders will participate in the Global Athlete Congress in the Dominican Republic, held alongside the inaugural World Tennis Invitational and Special Olympics International’s Board of Directors meeting.

The Office of the First Lady of the Dominican Republic and the Ministry of Sports are hosting these events. Claudia Echeverry, President and Regional Director of Special Olympics Latin America, said, “Our athletes, from every corner of the world, are preparing themselves to give their very best in and out of the playing field, ready to show the world the power of sports and the inclusive leadership to unify people with and without intellectual disabilities.”

The Congress begins on Monday, 12 November. First Lady of the Dominican Republic Candida Montilla de Medina; Julio Barrera, an athlete leader and member of the Global Athlete Input Council for Latin America; Luis Almagro, the Secretary General of the Organization of American States; Maria Soledad Cisterna Reyes, the United Nations’ Special Envoy on Disability and Accessibility; Albert Pujols, a professional baseball player; and Tim Shriver, Chairman of Special Olympics International will speak at the Opening Ceremony.

During the Congress, participants will be debating these topics:
Should Programs be required to have an athlete leader on staff?
How do we balance traditional and Unified Sports at World Games?
How can athlete leaders support Special Olympics in building awareness in their communities?
In the eyes of the Congress, from all the things that Special Olympics does, what in your experience does the most to get people with intellectual disabilities meaningfully included in society?

In addition, they will be trained in communications, social media, how to be on a committee or Board of Directors, how to be a Health Messenger, and how to coach. To further embody the Congress’ theme of Leaders for Inclusion, many of these trainings will be held by athlete leaders themselves.

2018 World Tennis Invitational, Santo Domingo - Global Athlete Congress: Leaders for Inclusion

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