On behalf of the entire Special Olympics movement, we want to thank you for supporting health and fitness, sports and teamwork, and justice and joy around the globe. You are all game-changers!
And the changes you made were more impactful than ever.
In 2016, Special Olympics athletes competed side-by-side with professional athletes at events like the X Games, showing the world an example of true inclusion. In Paraguay, thanks to efforts by our health team, the government agreed to provide medical care in all specialties for Special Olympics athletes through the Hospital Juan Pablo II.
In the USA, Senator Roy Blunt’s support led to a 50% increase in our U.S. federal funding in 2016. Panama’s President, Juan Carlos Varela, joined Special Olympics athletes and others in a 5K for a consecutive year. And President Abdel Fattah El Sisi of Egypt personally embraced inclusion by hiring an athlete with intellectual disabilities named Dina Galal.
The stories across our movement are endless, but it’s hard to find a better example of Special Olympics athletes leading the way than in Syria. In September, despite a devastating civil war and humanitarian crisis beyond comprehension, 1,200 Special Olympics athletes gathered in Damascus for Syria's National Games. They competed in 16 sports, but more importantly, they showed an almost unbelievable display of courage, unity, and world-class grit.
Our community knows bullying and misunderstanding well; in 2016, we were reminded that our work of overcoming it is more urgent than ever.
Yet, intolerance, injustice and inactivity continued to plague the lives of people with intellectual challenges in 2016. Today, Pablo Ulises, 21, from Mexico is a Special Olympics athlete leader with many victories and medals; but his was a long journey that started with discrimination from educators and doctors who described his case as “hopeless.”
In 2016, it also became clear that we are living amidst a global crisis of intolerance and fear of difference. We saw it in armed conflicts, in elections, and even in schools. Our community knows bullying and misunderstanding well and in 2016, we were reminded that our work of overcoming it is more urgent than ever.
Despite those storm clouds, 2016 saw significant reasons to celebrate. We expanded partnerships with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which committed $22.5 million to our health efforts, as well as with Coca-Cola, Bank of America, and Microsoft. We announced the generous support and incredible global commitment of ESPN as our Official Broadcast Partner. We also launched new partnerships with others, such as the IKEA Foundation, which is supporting the growth of Young Athletes with $6.4 million over three years, along with strong support from Herbalife, The National Football League (U.S.), Citgo, Hasbro and MetLife.
The ultimate goal of our work is to rid the world of discrimination against people with intellectual disabilities and, by doing so, to open the hearts of every human being to the beauty and dignity of each of us.
We exceeded our goal of participation in Unified Sports. Our movement now has 1.4 million Unified teammates around the world! By year's end, we announced the first Programs to become official Healthy Communities. We now have 13 recognized Healthy Communities: in Kazakhstan, Mexico, Paraguay, Romania, South Africa, Thailand and Uganda, plus U.S. Programs in Arizona, Arkansas, Florida, Nebraska, New Jersey and Wisconsin.
Thanks for everything you’ve done to make 2016 such a year of victory. Let’s continue to run the race, join the team, give and get, and choose to include together.