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50 years of Special Olympics celebrated

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Special Olympics is the largest world organisation for children and adults with intellectual disabilities, writes columnist Jemima Browning.

It was founded in 1968 which means this year marks the 50th anniversary of this incredible movement. There have been two fantastic events to mark this. Special Olympics is a global organisation which exemplifies the ethos that a better world based upon acceptance and inclusion that can be catalysed by sport.

One event was one for the athletes and their families to enjoy. The 2018 celebratory games were held from August 9-13 with 1400 athletes taking part. Athletes were taking part from across Great Britain and European countries in nine different sports at Sterling University in Scotland.

All the sports at the games cater for all abilities which ensures the games are all inclusive and not just for ‘elite’ athletes.

This helps break the perception that Special Olympics is only for the top minority of athletes who have been training for years. These games also offered a specific lower ability competition in swimming, athletics and multi activity training programme.

This allows the very low ability athletes and athletes with multiple complex impairments to enjoy the competition in the same way as their peers. These games were truly inclusive so never be put off by the connotations of the word “Olympics”.

The games were also used to promote the “Be bold, be kind, be awesome!” campaign. This aims to challenge young people’s perceptions that they may have towards young people with intellectual disabilities. This will aim to create a more unified generation for the future and inspire and unlock the potential in future youth leaders.

The second event to commemorate this 50-year landmark was the lighting up of a number of notable world landmarks in the Special Olympics colour of red. This marks not only the 50 years celebration but also it was a display of unity across the globe. Places like the Emirates Palace, Abu Dhabi, the Empire State Building, New York, the London Eye, UK and Niagara Falls, Canada lit up for inclusion. This awareness raising act originated in Chicago and is part of the Anniversary celebration. Chicago was the birth place of the first every Special Olympics International Summer Games.

Since the Special Olympics was set up it has grown to involve more than 5million athletes and unified partners in more than 170 countries. There are more than 1 million coaches and volunteers that support the movement and help with the delivery of 32 Olympic-type sports. The global organisation holds over 108,000 games and competitions throughout the year. The main support comes from individuals, foundations and partners.

The organisation helps improve so many lives. The athletes benefit greatly from being able to partake in sport in an accepting environment where they are challenged to dream and achieve fantastic things.

They do not have to worry about being ‘different’ or not as good as other people because it doesn’t matter, what matters in Special Olympics is taking part, trying your best and supporting one another.

The athletes are also given a voice, in most cases for the very first time in their lives, through the athlete leadership program.

It is not just this that makes Special Olympics a vital movement in today’s society. Families, carers, friends, schoolmates, teachers and the wider community all benefit too. They see the athletes breaking down their own barriers and often achieving things that people previously thought were impossible.

The values, principles and accomplishments of the Special Olympics organisation should be celebrated every day, it is changing the world and making it a more accepting and inclusive place.