By: Georgia Free
The Special Olympics is the world’s largest sporting organisation for those with intellectual disabilities.
Boasting five million participants in 172 countries, the program supports athletes from local grassroots organisations all the way to National and World Games.
Team Australia just returned from the Special Olympics World Games in Berlin – where all of our 64 Australian athletes returned home with a medal – including 15 gold, 21 silver, and 23 bronze – across nine sports.
Special Olympics Australia CEO Pierre Comis shared the impact of a program like Special Olympics on athletes.
“These athletes come from a world that hasn’t recognised them or show the world what they are capable of,” he said. “But on this stage, the spotlight is on them.”
Special Olympics provides opportunities for athletes to train at local clubs, play weekend competitions and access to the competition pathway that eventually leads to National and World Games. However, even at the highest level, sportsmanship and celebration is the focus – rather than competition. Although individuals compete and receive medals, there is no medal tally between countries.
“The way they conduct themselves… the camaraderie, the sportsmanship, the sheer joy they exhibit is just exhilarating,” Pierre said. “They are the best advocates for themselves.”
Australia hopes to be the host for the 2027 World Games, with Perth recently putting in a bid.
“It’s an exciting aspiration. We do sport really well in this country,” Pierre said.
“If we can make it happen, it would be transformative.”
However, Pierre also has his eyes on a bigger goal – making sure that every local club in Australia has programs and opportunities for inclusive sport that will see those with and without intellectual disabilities participating in sport together.
“We train coaches and provide resources so that someone with an intellectual disability can turn up to their local club and feel confident that the coaches and the environment will be welcoming and adapt the activities for them,” Pierre said.
“That’s what we call unified sport.”
Listen to Pierre’s full interview in the player above.
Article supplied with thanks to Hope Media.
All images: Supplied
About the Author: Georgia Free is a broadcaster and writer from Sydney, Australia.