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From Eunice Shriver’s vision, Special Olympics travelled worldwide for 51 years to reach Abu Dhabi; Indians flourished with 368 medals

India created history. The Indian team of ‘Special Olympians’ returned with a whopping tally of 368 medals from the Special Olympics World Games 2019 that was hosted in Abu Dhabi from March 14 to 21, 2019. India finished with 85 gold, 154 silver and 129 bronze.  

Medals were won across all sports – Athletics, Golf, Volleyball, Aquatics, Cycling, Judo, Powerlifting, Table tennis, Roller skating, Badminton, Basketball traditional, Handball traditional and Football 7-side female.  While the powerlifters from India bagged a total of 96 medals- 20 gold, 33 silver and 43 bronze; the roller skaters grabbed a total of 49 medals–23 gold, 20 silver and 16 bronze. In Cycling 11 gold, 14 silver and 20 bronze were won to take the total to 45 medals, while the country’s Track and Field athletes returned with 39 medals – 5 gold, 24 silver and 10 bronze.

This was India’s ninth year of participation at the event, and the first time to be a part of Judo and Futsal in the competition. The participants managed 3 gold, 1 silver and 7 bronze in those events. This is by far the best performance by Team Bharat at the Special Olympics.

Following India’s stupendous show, Prime Minister Narendra Modi congratulated the team of 284 athletes by sending them a special message- “Our contingent at the Special Olympics World Games Abu Dhabi has won a historic 368 medals. Congratulations to all the medalists. Their fortitude and accomplishments inspire millions.”

SPECIAL OLYMPICS BHARAT

A total of 1169 Special Olympics Indian athletes have participated in eight World Summer Games and five World Winter Games between 1987 and 2015. After the nation’s first participation in the Olympics, the Special Olympics programme started in India in 1988 as Special Olympics India, and changed its name to Special Olympics Bharat in 2001. The organisation was registered in 2001 under the Indian Trust Act 1882.

By 2004, there were 28652 athletes and 1860 coaches from 22 states who got registered in the Special Olympics Bharat programme. The main mission of the organization was to discover new strengths and abilities of people with intellectual disabilities and to nourish their skills to make them successful. Thus, it got the support of the Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment. It also got recognized by the Government of India as a National Sports Federation on 19th January 2006 by the Ministry of Youth Affairs and Sports and was upgraded to the Priority Category on 8th April 2006.

The primary objective of Special Olympics Bharat is to offer training and competition opportunities in 25 Olympic-style individual and team sports for persons with intellectual disabilities. It organizes training and competitions at local, district, state, national and international levels. There are also training programmes for coaches to increase their level of knowledge. Thus presently, the SO Bharat stands as the main platform for those people who have to prove the world that they have abilities that exceeds beyond their disabilities. They vow “Let me win. But if I cannot win, let me be brave in the attempt.”

EUNICE KENNEDY SHRIVER- THE HISTORY OF SPECIAL OLYMPICS

A brave attempt led to the foundation of Special Olympics by Eunice Kennedy Shriver, the sister of US President John F. Kennedy. Eunice Shriver launched a crusade to change the way the world treated people with mental retardation. It was believed that both Eunice Shriver and John Kennedy prioritized this programme as they experienced the misfortune of one of their own, Rosemary Kennedy, who had mental retardation.   

The birth of Special Olympics is considered to be a summer day camp that Eunice Shriver started in the backyard of her Maryland home in 1962. The camp that was for children with disabilities became an annual event. Shriver did not confine her concept in her own backyard. She organized grants from The Kennedy Foundation (of which she was executive vice president) to universities, recreation departments and community centres to hold similar camps. In 1968, the camp evolved into the Special Olympics, when the world witnessed the Games at Soldier Field in Chicago.

In her speech at the Opening Ceremony, Shriver said that the inaugural Chicago Special Olympics prove ‘a very fundamental fact’- that children with intellectual disabilities can be exceptional athletes and that ‘through sports they can realize their potential for growth.’ She pledged that Special Olympics would offer people with intellectual disabilities everywhere ‘the chance to play, the chance to compete and the chance to grow.’

In 2019, for the first time, the global sports event dedicated to people with intellectual disabilities was held in the Middle East. The Games saw a participation of 7,500 athletes this year who represented 195 countries and competed in 24 sport disciplines. The event which takes place every alternate year, is held in a unique way. There is no medal tally for the countries. While carrying forward the legacy, Timothy Shriver, son of Eunice Shriver and the chairman of Special Olympics International, conveyed, “This is not about countries, it’s about people, it’s not about one nation defeating another nation…you just talk to the athletes, what is their message, ‘I had a good time, I played, I trained, I competed, I won a medal.’ That’s it.”

About Poulomi Kundu

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