The Malta Independent 28 June 2022, Tuesday

Let us all be inspired by the 2022 Special Olympics Invitational Games in Malta

Sunday, 22 May 2022, 08:04 Last update: about 2 months ago

Gwendolyn ‘Wendy’ Green

Last week, Malta hosted the 2022 Special Olympics Invitational Games, welcoming delegations from 23 countries in the first gathering of its kind to take place in Europe since the start of the coronavirus pandemic. I am proud that the US athletes travelled to participate in these competitions, including a team from Florida and a team from Texas, my own home state. The Games were a spectacular celebration of all the athletes’ achievements and a reaffirmation of our common commitment to our shared values of diversity and inclusion.

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Americans hold a special passion for the Special Olympics, as the concept of the Special Olympics was born in the United States in the 1960s. It all began with a modest gathering on the grounds of Eunice Kennedy Shriver’s home during the 1960s, an era when most people with intellectual disabilities were institutionalised – effectively segregated from society, with few opportunities for education, employment or community engagement. Inspired by her sister Rosemary, who was born with intellectual disabilities, Shriver – whose brother was President John F. Kennedy – wanted to give children with special needs, a chance to compete in organised sports. So, she invited a group of children with intellectual disabilities to swim, play soccer and shoot basketball hoops in her backyard. She named her backyard gathering Camp Shriver, which eventually grew into the world-renowned Special Olympics.

Today, Special Olympics have spread across the globe and became an inspirational movement that transcends boundaries, unites us all in diversity and teaches us the skill of inclusion. The Special Olympics improve the lives of people with intellectual disabilities and also their families, communities, volunteers and everyone who contributes to the effort. Inclusive and unified approaches to sports and education ensure that people with all abilities can exercise their rights as full and equal participants in our communities. Through the power of sports, people with intellectual disabilities discover new strengths and abilities, skills and success. Athletes find joy, confidence and fulfilment on the playing field and in life. They also inspire people in their communities and elsewhere to open their hearts to a wider world of human talents and potential.

In my more than 20-year diplomatic career, I have had the pleasure of working with Special Olympics in Europe, Africa and the Middle East. My time with the athletes always fills my heart with joy, love and inspiration. I also witnessed how Special Olympics ignites conversations about the rights and needs of the intellectually disabled people in these communities. It raises the visibility of these important social issues in places where intellectually disabled people are often hidden away and unseen. The Special Olympics gives this population a voice that solidifies their place in their own communities.

The 2022 Special Olympics Invitational Games in Malta proved a particular source of inspiration and joy for my team at the US Embassy. This enthusiasm was born from our partnership with Special Olympics Malta and Europe, with whom we worked for over two years to support this dream. In preparation for last week’s events, the United States and Malta teamed up to organise swimming clinics and educational presentations promoting inclusion with the participation of Olympic swimmer Donna de Varona and Alec Heuermann, a US Special Olympics World Games double-silver medalist. The United States and Malta also worked together to sponsor hands-on training opportunities, resident scholars and visiting academics to promote inclusive sport for people with both intellectual and physical disabilities. This partnership was invaluable in advancing inclusion and diversity on both sides of the Atlantic.

We were thrilled to welcome American athletes travelling all the way from Florida and Texas to participate in the Games. I am proud that Team USA won some medals, but even more proud to see their interactions with fellow athletes from so many countries, all bravely striving to do their very best. As the Special Olympics’ motto says, “If I cannot win, let me be brave in the attempt”. Whether they won or lost, we were inspired by their dedication and commitment.

It is my hope that these competitions inspire us all, paving the way for greater inclusion in physical education. We are currently funding a US Fulbright scholar to work hand-in-hand with the University of Malta, sports clubs and local schools to help young people with intellectual disabilities. Sara Barnard Flory is the first foreign scholar hosted by the University of Malta’s Institute for Physical Education and Sport, but we hope her work will pave the wave for others who share this passion.

On behalf of Team USA, I would like to thank Dr Lydia Abela, president of Special Olympics Malta and her team, the government of Malta and Special Olympics Europe and commend them on their efforts to spotlight this global movement and to host the 2022 Invitational Games in Malta. Congratulations on a job very well done!

The United States and Malta are committed to advancing the human rights of persons with disabilities at home and around the world. We are proud to celebrate our shared values, especially in diversity and inclusion. We hope you will join us as we look forward to working together again on similar inspirational endeavours.

 

Gwendolyn ‘Wendy’ Green is the US Chargé d’Affaires

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