By: Alex Umoru

The Special Olympics was conceived on the 20th of July, 1968 by Eunice Kennedy Shriver with the intent of creating a “unified sports environment where athletes with or without intellectual disabilities are brought together as teammates. The mission of organizing a variety of Olympic-type sports competition for children and adults alike provides opportunities to develop physical fitness, experience joy and demonstrate courage. This is the vision that gave rise to the Special Olympics motto of “let me win. But if I cannot win, let me be brave in the attempt”. Eligibility for participation includes being at least 8 years of age as well as having one of the following conditions: intellectual disability, cognitive delays or significant learning or vocational problems.

The Special Olympics is not to be fused with the Paralympics which is generally for athletes with physical disability competing at an elite level. It is the difference that gave the Special Olympics the tag of “inclusive” games. In the late 1950s and early 1960s, Eunice Kennedy Shriver saw little justice in the way people with intellectual disabilities are excluded by routinely placing them in custodial institutions but she believed that this gifted children had many talents and gifts to offer especially when having a sister with special needs. Eunice Kennedy Shriver that sports as a common ground to unite people from all walks of life and in 1962 she started inviting young people with intellectual disabilities to a summer day camp she hosted at her backyard. She called it “Camp Shriver.” The goal was to explore the children’s skills in a variety of sports and physical activities.

Cheering Parcipants at the Special Olympics in Abu Dhabi

The idea behind that first Camp Shriver began to grow and in July 1968, the first International Special Olympics Games were held in Chicago, Illinois, USA. The Special Olympics was held at nine world class stadiums that accommodated 500,000 spectators, 1,500 officials and ESPN offered the games an international coverage that witnessed an electrifying and inspiring opening and closing ceremony that took place at Zayed Sports City Stadium. Other side attraction specifically at the opening ceremony was performance by Avril Lavigne, Tamer Hosny, Paul Oakenfold, Sumi Jo and Luis Fonsi.

Premier League legend Didier Drogba and World Cup hero Cafu were both Ambassadors of the 2019 Special Olympics

This year’s game had more nations, more female athletes, and more unified than ever before and the host UAE had the biggest team at the World Games, while Saudi Arabia sends female athletes for first time. More than 20,000 people have registered to give their time to the event, demonstrating an unprecedented level of engagement with the principals of inclusion and strengthening the culture of voluntarism. Africa participation recorded a significant boost as 11 additional countries from the continent debuted for these years’ games. The 11 countries are Burundi, Cape Verde, Congo, Guinea, Guinea Bissau, Equatorial Guinea, Madagascar, Mozambique, Niger, Chad and South Sudan.

Nigeria’s Miracle Unified Volleyball Team that won Gold at the 2019 Special Olympics.

Nigeria had an 85-man delegation consisting of 60 Special Olympics athletes and 24 officials that featured in Athletics, Badminton, Basketball, Football, Table-tennis, Volleyball, Swimming and Cycling. Some famous sport men and women worldwide lent their voices and participated as ambassadors of the games. Top among them was the former Premier League legend Didier Drogba and World Cup hero Cafu who played against each another in a unique match at the Special Olympics World Games to celebrate inclusion. United State multiple Olympic gold medalists, Allyson Felix also trained alongside with some group of Special Olympic athletes in a Unified Sprint Clinic at Dubai Police Academy Stadium.

Equally, over 100 Global Health Leaders pledged to end Healthcare Disparities for People with Intellectual Disabilities. Arising from the Global Inclusive Health Forum in conjunction with Special Olympics World Games 2019 (SOWG) , Individuals with intellectual disabilities (ID) from 20 developing countries will receive better quality healthcare services in the next three to five years. The 20 countries were Ghana, Kenya, Nigeria, Senegal, Uganda, Bangladesh, India, Malaysia, Mongolia, Nepal, Pakistan, Vietnam, Jordan, Moldova, Dominican Republic, Guatemala, Jamaica, Ecuador, Paraguay and Peru. The Nigeria delegation returned with a haul of medals.

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