I’m much interested at the moment in the Special Olympics, and how this organisation fits into the Olympic movement more generally. For those not in the know, the Special Olympics gives people with intellectual disabilities the opportunity for athletic competition, and it was founded by Eunice Kennedy Shriver, the sister of Robert Kennedy and JFK, and also of a mentally disabled sibling: Rosemary. The movement – which she founded in the 1960s - is now world wide, covering some 180 countries and 3.1 million athletes, aided by 300,000 coaches and 750,000 volunteers. The organisation holds world, regional and national sports competitions and oversees a network of national programmes, the aim being to encourage people with intellectual disabilities to improve their health, and gain confidence and skills through sport. The volunteer programme, and the policy of encouraging the athletes' families to get involved as well, serves to broaden the movement’s appeal still further, and the publicity generated will hopefully lead to a raised awareness more generally about the abilities and rights of this community.
The IOC officially recognised the organisation in 1988 and Special Olympics is actually the only body authorised by it to use the word "Olympics" worldwide - no mean achievement by any standards!
For some people, sport appears trivial; something to be avoided on the back pages of newspapers. But as a tool for social inclusion and personal realisation it seems to work almost better than anything else. I blogged a few weeks back about how the UN is putting faith in sport as a development tool, and here’s another example of its power.
There aren’t a huge number of books about the Special Olympics in the collection (though there are doubtless some articles in journals that I haven’t tracked down yet). Here’s hoping that much more is written about this fascinating subject.
Siperstein, Gary N. Multinational study of attitudes towards individuals with intellectual disabilities: general findings and calls to action Washington, D.C. : Special Olympics, 2003.
Lending collections shelfmark: m07/.29379
Haskins, James, A new kind of joy: the story of the Special Olympics. Garden City, N.Y: Doubleday, 1976.
Lending collections shelfmark: X28/5724
Brittain, Ian. ‘The Special Olympics, intellectual disability and the Paralympic Games’ in The Paralympic Games explained. London: Routledge, 2010.
London reference collections shelfmark: SPIS 796.0456
Lending collections shelfmark: m09/.30402
Bartlett, Graham. The Special Olympics. Leicestershire Adult Basic Education Service, [1991?]
London reference collections shelfmark: YK.1992.a.9437