Celebrated as the World’s Largest Sport and
Humanitarian Event of the Year
Berlin opened their home and hearts between 17-25th June to over 7,000 athletes with and without Intellectual Disabilities across 190 countries, with over 18,000 volunteers and a magical opening ceremony with over 50,000 supporters of the games.
The stage was set for an inclusion extravaganza at the historical Olympiastadion in Germany’s capital. Not so long ago in history this was a location built to destroy and to separate human beings. Today, the stadium welcomed 176 delegations united towards the Special Olympics oath: “Let me win, but if I cannot win, let me be brave in the attempt.”
The historical Parade of Athletes celebrated through the marathon gate, and which saw UTS President Stephan Fox walk out with team Laos and UTS CEO Julia Govinden walk with team Mauritius. Special Olympics Chairman Timothy Shriver gave a riveting and impassioned speech stating: “To the world, I challenge you, if you are searching for a reason to believe, come to Berlin and see how we overcome.”
Across 8 venues and 28 sports, athletes have come with their family and friends for support as they strive for the podium giving their very best after 4 years since the last world games that was held in the UAE. With an increase in participation and a 5% increase of females at the games, the Special Olympics has a staggering family network of over 6 million people around the world.
ONCE YOU ARE IN THIS FAMILY YOU NEVER WANT TO GET OUT
The event included an Educational Inclusion Forum with sessions such as “The legacy of the Special Olympics Games” and “Level the playing field: A discussion on inclusive sport for all.” With top speakers from Donna de Varona who stated: “Once you are in this family, you don’t ever want to get out!” to ESPN Producer Kate Jackson who said: “Sport is a reflection of culture, representation matters to see yourself reflected on tv.” Special Olympics newly appointed International Board member and first ever female chair of the athletes commission Kiera Byland served as the engaging moderator and said: “See it to believe it, what we need is for everyone to work together.” Kiera played a vital role in the UTS World Virtual Youth Festival in 2020 where she was an active ambassador, representing the Special Olympics and delivered engaging advocacy in our education forum. Ben Haack, Special Olympics International, Athlete Leader and SO Australia said: “I fight for inclusion every day and part of the fight is changing your mindset. Too often a perception is taken that people like me are just cute, happy, adorable and many other stereotypes. Athletes have so many challenges, we say they are special Olympians, but how many will go home and be treated as such? These are conversations we need to have.” Ben has contributed to two editions of the UTS World Youth Festival in both 2019 on the Gold Coast speaking about inclusion and as a representative of SOI and in 2020 Thailand where he spoke on a panel session discussion how we can promote inclusion in society.
Many of the sports such as badminton, volleyball, athletics, table tennis, basketball and cheerleading shared their “Unified” approach to the sport competitions where athletes with and without intellectual disabilities competed together in a sport.
HEALTHY ATHLETES PROGRAM
The Healthy Athletes Program is the world’s largest program catering to the needs of people with intellectual disabilities. It was a never seen before level of care for UTS at a sport event of this magnitude. With a goal to improve long-term health care and educating, as well as increasing health competence of athletes, this program was a huge success. Where healthy athletes are at the heart of the event and the inclusive sports movement, free health medical consultations were given for the over 7,000 athletes. Consultations included free hearing screening, vision tests and prescriptions given where needed, physical fitness, podiatry, emotional health, orthopaedic care, dental care and examinations, even teaching athletes how to properly brush their teeth. UTS witnessed young athlete Marcelino Lages from Brazil receiving his first hearing aid and changing his life.
For people with IDD, there are huge health disparities and often they are at risk of additional health issues and poorer health longterm. This program breaks down the barriers to health care and encourages education not just for the athletes but their families also.
The Young Athletes Demonstration and Activities venue used basic equipment to encourage development of youth motor skills enhancing their social, emotional, and cognitive development. Activities included sensory planks with different textures, throwing balls through hoops, dribbling a ball around cones with a hockey stick, jumping through used tires. The program opened to schools and the public encouraging family activities and unity through exploration.
With over 100 young athletes at the Global Youth Leadership summit, athletes with and without intellectual disabilities convened in Berlin to learn and grow together as future leaders of the inclusion revolution sharing projects and the implementation in their schools and societies.
UTS President Stephan Fox said of the experience: “It has been the most incredible experience to see how diverse this event is. The healthy athletes’ program was mind blowing and standing in the athlete’s parade amongst the full stadium in support of the athletes and celebrating inclusion was phenomenal. Everyone, everywhere can learn a lot from this world games and the power sport continues to bring towards the betterment of humanity.”
Julia Govinden, CEO of UTS shared her view of the event saying: “It is astounding the level of care, kindness, and community at the games. We see the Special Olympics team walk the talk in every detail and seeing the joy and pride of the athletes reflect the dedication towards an inclusive world. It has been an unforgettable experience. One I will never forget and no doubt everyone who is here feels exactly the same.”
UTS would like to thank the Special Olympics Family for the invitation of a lifetime, offering the warmest and kindest of welcomes and for ensuring we are a part of the family. UTS saw what inclusion can bring to thousands of athletes from across the world and with a shared vision to encourage an inclusive world, the future is brighter than ever.