In 2016, we continued to expand the enormous reach and impact of Special Olympics Unified Sports® events. Through Unified Sports, we are bringing together people with and without ID in schools, playing fields and communities worldwide.
Thanks to support from ESPN, the Global Presenting Sponsor of Unified Sports, we have recruited 1.4 million Unified teammates around the globe. Together, these Unified athletes are breaking down stereotypes and tearing down the walls of isolation around people with ID.
From my first basketball clinic in my rookie year to today – as a new Special Olympics Ambassador -- I have seen the great power of this organization to bring people together. Everyone needs to see this!
In 2016, we worked creatively to unite new and diverse groups behind our vision of inclusion, including young people excited to be part of the first “Unified Generation.” In the USA alone, our Unified Sports campaign spread to more than 4,518 schools and engaged more than 87,000 students in new youth leader roles. Young people of all abilities trained and played together, enjoying more than 257,000 Unified Sports experiences throughout the year. That’s a lot of unity.
Another huge breakthrough was in China: Special Olympics Sports and Unified Sports are now part of the curriculum for primary and middle-school students nationwide. These new standards will create inclusion and educational equality, uniting an entire generation of young people with and without ID -- potentially millions of young people across China.
Unified Sports started in the United States, but – as with all great ideas – it’s been catching on fast. As of 2016, Unified Sports is happening in more than 200 Programs. These include parts of the world where people with ID have been subject to stigma and often kept out of mainstream activities. Unified Sports brings people together and heals those painful breaches. In Africa, for example, Unified Sports hit an impressive milestone. This year, we can celebrate that every single Special Olympics Program in Africa is offering Unified Sports -- from South Africa to Senegal to the Seychelles.
Competitions All Around the World
Every year, Special Olympics holds more than 100,000 competitions and events around the world, plus World Summer or Winter Games every two years. There were no World Games in 2016 – but our athletes were too busy to notice.
Thousands of them were in training for the 2017 World Winter Games competition, held March 2017 in Austria. Training was also under way for the 2017 Special Olympics Latin American Games in Panama, and hopefuls aiming for the 2018 USA National Games in Seattle, Wash., among many high-profile events.
There was also the announcement of the next World Summer Games, which will happen in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, in 2019. These will be the first Special Olympics World Games to be held in the Middle East.
Throughout 2016, millions of athletes were training and competing in our 32+ Special Olympics summer and winter sports. We can’t list all 100,000+ competitions -- but here’s a quick survey of 2016 games and sporting events held around the world:
- Defiant in the face of civil war, 1,200 Special Olympics athletes gathered in Damascus to kick off Syria’s National Games. Competitions were held in 16 sports – as athletes displayed their skill, courage and perseverance.
- A newer Program, Special Olympics Mongolia held its first National Winter Games. More than 80 athletes competed in snowshoeing and cross-country skiing in the plains near Mongolia’s capital.
- 300 Special Olympics athletes gathered in Gothenburg, Sweden for the hugely successful Kim Källström Trophy football tourney. The competition featured 30 teams from 14 Europe/Eurasia nations playing across six divisions.
- The Special Olympics East Asia region held its first regional Invitational Games. Athletes from all six Programs -- China, Chinese Taipei, Hong Kong, Korea, Macau and Mongolia -- took part.
- Special Olympics Botswana held the 29th National Games with 450 athletes competing. The weeklong games included athletics, Unified football/soccer, Unified volleyball and a half-marathon. These games were part of early training and preparations for the 2019 Special Olympics World Summer Games.
- Special Olympics Palestine held a sports camp and competitions in athletics, badminton, bocce, football and table tennis.
- Special Olympics United Arab Emirates hosted national competitions for more than 180 athletes in a range of sports, including table tennis and badminton.
- Special Olympics Hong Kong hosted a Regional Badminton Competition in Anhui Province, China. More than 70 athletes from East Asia nations attended.
- Special Olympics Libya’s National Games brought together 200 athletes. They competed in five sports: badminton, table tennis, bocce, athletics and five-a-side football.
- Special Olympics Vietnam held National Games in Ho Chi Minh City. More than 200 athletes from around the country competed.
- Special Olympics Morocco held its 9th National Games in Ifrane, with 2,000 athletes competing. The Games featured competitions in 16 sports, including athletics, basketball, handball, football, swimming and tennis. For the first time, a Young Athletes event was included, as youngsters ages 2-7 got a chance to learn new sports skills.
Unified Sports Excellence
A recent Harris Poll shows that, while Unified Sports remains a relatively new brand, 1 in 5 young people (ages 18-34) say they’re already familiar with Unified Sports.
Special Olympics is working to raise awareness and participation even more -- and especially among young people. Why? Because children with disabilities are two to three times more likely to be bullied than those without disabilities. Students with ID face even more isolation on school campuses. That’s because they are less likely to spend time in a regular education setting than students with other types of disability.
Studies show that Special Olympics’ Unified Strategy (formerly Project UNIFY) creates communities where students with disabilities feel welcome and are included in all school activities. Four out of five students say the Unified Strategy is changing their school for the better. And nearly all students also say they want to keep the Special Olympics Unified Strategy.
Unified Sports brings together people of all ages, young, old and in-between. Here’s a quick sample of what “Playing Unified” looked like in 2016:
- The fifth annual NBA Cares Unified Basketball Game was held during All Star Weekend, featuring 11 Special Olympics athletes from around the world playing alongside NBA and WNBA legends. Played for the first time in Toronto, Canada, the game brought the unifying power of sports to a wide new audience.
- At the X Games in Aspen, Colo., 10 Special Olympics athletes from around the globe teamed up with Olympic snowboard gold medalist Hannah Teter and nine other professional athletes. This annual Unified Snowboard medal event brought together athletes with and without ID on the dual slalom course.
- The Special Olympics Latin America region held the South American Unified Football Tournament in Uruguay. The international competition drew athletes from nearly a dozen countries: Argentina, Brazil, Bolivia, Chile, Cuba, Ecuador, Mexico, Venezuela, Uruguay, Paraguay and Peru.
- The Asia-Pacific Interregional Unified Football Tournament showcased the skills and abilities of hundreds of athletes from Thailand, Korea, Bharat/India and Bangladesh.
- The Special Olympics Middle East/North Africa region held a Unified Triathlon in Sharm El Sheikh, Egypt. Athletes from eight nations took part.
- Special Olympics Nippon's Fukuoka prefecture conducted a Unified Sports fun day. Lions Clubs International members, along with the young Leos, competed as Unified partners in a Unified bocce match.
- Special Olympics China held its largest-ever Unified Football competition. More than 1,500 athletes and Unified partners from 128 schools took part.
- The 2nd South Asia Unified Cricket Tournament was held in Dhaka, Bangladesh. Athletes from Bharat/India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Serendib (Sri Lanka) took part.
- Special Olympics East Asia held its first Inclusive Regional Youth Leader Training Camp at Canvas College Beijing. The training brought together youth with and without ID and mentors from Unified Schools across the Region for a real sense of unity.
Our Partnerships Make It Happen
In all our 32+ sports, Special Olympics strives for excellence. Our sports partnerships around the world are an essential part of this.
In 2016, we renewed alliances with the International Volleyball Federation (FIVB) and the International Tennis Federation (ITF). Special Olympics also renewed our partnership with the International Ski Federation (FIS).
Other partnerships include:
- Special Olympics Europe Eurasia is teaming up with the International School Sport Federation. The goal is to promote Unified Sports events at the ISF’s World Championship events.
- Special Olympics Papua New Guinea signed a breakthrough agreement with the Papua New Guinea Football Federation. This gives our athletes and coaches access to venues, facilities and equipment, plus coaching education and certification.
- Special Olympics Latin America also renewed collaboration with CONMEBOL and South America Tennis Confederation (COSAT) aimed at further strengthening the popular sports of football and tennis. Both will help us offer more high-quality sports to our athletes.
- In Lima, Peru, the Badminton Pan American Confederation and Special Olympics Latin America will together promote development of badminton in the region, offering more opportunities for our athletes in this sport.
- The International Floorball Federation also works with Special Olympics to provide quality coaches education and equipment for athletes and coaches across Europe/Eurasia.
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