The Special Olympics organization has been around since 1968 to provide a way for those with various disabilities to be able to access sports.
Alongside the World Games, which showcases the abilities of those with physical and intellectual disabilities on a global stage, the Special Olympics also helps support local people and organizations increase access to sports and healthcare, breaking the stigma around those with disabilities.
The Special Olympics World Games
The World Games of the Special Olympics brings people together – coaches, and athletes from across the entire globe to compete in over 30 disciplines and sports. Competitors come from over 170 countries to display the capabilities of those with disabilities, exhibiting how they have been able to defy the odds.
Alongside the World Games, over 100,000 smaller competitions and matches are held globally every single year, allowing individuals from diverse backgrounds and ability levels to participate in competitive sports which they may have otherwise been excluded from or unable to compete in on a conventional level.
The Unified Cup
Soccer is a sport that unites people around the world, and disabled people are no different. The Unified Cup allows teams from over 24 countries to compete and show their skills in a tournament similar to the FIFA World Cup!
The initiative is helping to change perceptions of disabled people and illustrate what they are capable of both on and off the pitch.
Training and Investment
Through the Special Olympics platform, many individuals have been able to access sports at a local level and gain access to the specialist and professional training they need to help them to succeed.
Partnerships with over 1,200 sporting companies and organizations allow the Special Olympics to be able to provide equipment and resources to make sure everyone can take part. This can provide individuals with a newfound confidence in themselves, while helping them to remain physically fit and active in an enjoyable way.
On average, disabled people are far less likely to be physically active than the rest of the population – many face restricted living conditions or more severe levels of incapacity and dependence on others. This can then lead to further health complications such as obesity, heart disease and other health concerns.
Many of these individuals face multiple barriers and stigma when it comes to exercise and sports, even if they really want to engage. The fear of being seen as different, or of being ridiculed can lead to simply not trying at all, or not feeling welcome within the sporting space as a disabled person.
By raising awareness of the skills and abilities of individuals from all abilities and walks of life, the Special Olympics is helping to break down these barriers and bring wider acceptance of athletes with learning difficulties within sports.
The Special Olympics organization also aims to bridge the gap between in healthcare. Often, those with intellectual impairments can struggle to find and receive the tailored care that they need or struggle to obtain access to quality healthcare options.
This means that on average, the life expectancy of someone with a physical or intellectual disability is 18.2 years less than those who do not have an impairment.
By partnering with various organizations such as the Golisano Foundation, and in the United States the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Special Olympics are helping to provide quality healthcare and raise awareness of the challenges currently faced by those with disabilities to seek adequate care.
Volunteering with the Special Olympics
Coaches can help by dedicating time to help train intellectually disabled athletes, and other sportspersons can compete alongside them at unified events to help support and encourage the athletes.
Even turning up to a Special Olympics event to cheer the participants on is remarkably impactful. The gesture may not seem like much at all, but showing enthusiasm and support from the stands might be all an athlete needs to help them truly shine.