Case Study: Special Olympics

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MEI takes a look at the Special Olympics World Summer Games that were held in Ireland in 2003 and China in 2007. The Special Olympics is the worldwide sports movement for people with learning disabilities and mental handicaps. Founded by Eunice Kennedy Shriver in the US over 35 years ago, the Special Olympics movement is active in over 160 countries throughout the world. The Special Olympics World Summer and Winter games are held every four years and included include aquatics, athletics, badminton, basketball, bocce, bowling, cycling, equestrian, soccer, golf, gymnastics, powerlifting, roller–skating, sailing, softball, table tennis, tennis, team handball, and volleyball.

2003 Ireland Special Olympics World Summer GamesThe 2003 edition of the Special Olympics World Summer Games was held in the Republic of Ireland in June that year. It was the largest event that Ireland has ever hosted to date and was the largest sporting event in the world in 2003. The games and competition were centred around the greater Dublin area of Ireland. However, the entire island of Ireland had an opportunity to play an integral part in the event through the Host Town Programme which involved the athletes and coaches spending four days prior to the competition in a host town around the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland. Julian Davis was the media director for the games, on secondment from his job as account director at Fleishman–Hillard Saunders at the time, and explained why Ireland was successful in winning its bid to host the games. "Firstly, we made sure all sectors were brought into the project and we never let it become a political football. Secondly, we laid good building blocks by explaining why the games would be good for Ireland. Legacy was a key element of the bid. "The games were heralded as a success for several reasons, said Davis. "The whole of Ireland was united for this event and invited to 'Share the Feeling' through the host town programme. Another reason for the success was that the management structure and whole manisfestation of the games were incredibly professional. We maintained a programme of open communications where we told everyone what was going on and that we were doing it on their behalf. This resulted in a huge outpouring of public support. "The cost of Ireland hosting the Special Olympics was $34m cash and a further $23m as value–in–kind products and services. It was never a rationale to make a profit from the games according to Davis, "however, there was a small surplus that has been reinvested into helping disabled people in Ireland. "One physical legacy of the games for Ireland was the National Aquatic Centre (NAC), designed by architect company S&P. The NAC has full wheelchair access and now attracts up to 750, 000 visitors a year from across Ireland. Approximately 1. 55m people live within a 30–40 minute drive time of the site and 2. 12m people, or 60% of the Irish population, live within a two–hour drive time. "However, the games' main legacy has been in changing people's attitudes and perceptions about people with learning disabilities, " added Davis. "The National Disability Bill [was] reinstated and Ireland will be the only country to have such legislation [at that time]. Also the Irish government announced that it [was to] put $50m into supporting the disabled in Ireland. That's where the legacy of these games will be. ""A lot of people had felt that Ireland had lost its caring side, but the games relit that side of society. People found the games extremely moving and the experience is going to remain in our souls. The games ultimately mean that people with disabilities in Ireland are now going to have a greater life than they have before. You can't measure the impact of that sort of legacy, " said Davis. 2007 Shanghai Special Olympics World Summer Games The 2007 Special Olympics World Summer Games were held in Shanghai between 2–11 October 2007. The event marked the first time the World Summer Games were held in Asia. In addition to almost 7, 500 athletes, the 2007 World Summer Games included 40, 000 volunteers, 3, 500 event officials and thousands of families, volunteers, spectators and journalists from every continent. A summit was held alongside the 2007 Special Olympics World Summer Games comprising international leaders from governments, healthcare bodies, NGOs, sports and businesses calling to improve the treatment of and attitude to people with intellectual disabilities. At the summit, China pledged take the opportunity of the Special Olympics to further improve the welfare of the disadvantaged and take more effective measures to assist them, according to vice–premier Hui Liangyu. Using sport as a platform, the global policy summit incorporated more than 30 scientific presentations about people with intellectual disabilities from around the world and offered an in–depth analysis of the progress that China had made and its plans to strengthen its outreach to this vulnerable population as a world Games legacy. " The Global Policy Summit is one of China's greatest legacies to the Special Olympics, " said Wang Zhijun, chairman of Special Olympics China, speaking at the time. China is the fastest growing programme in the global Special Olympics family with athlete numbers reaching 500, 000 by the end of 2005, 10 times the figure in 2000. This followed the country's ratification of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities in 2006. The 2007 Special Olympics World Summer Games created a legacy of volunteerism in Shanghai and China that was continued at the Beijing 2008 Games. Many of the volunteers spent their time travelling across the city, working 12–hours day and caring for the athletes. On average, there were four volunteers taking care of one athlete. To promote the Games, posters could be seen all over Shanghai of a Downs Syndrome child with a medal hanging around his neck covered in lipstick kisses. Industry insiders described a sea–change in China's attitude toward disabled children since the event. The Special Olympics also provided Shanghai with a chance to present its new look, after a 16 year economic boom. Long known for regarding non–locals with derision, Shanghai resurrected its image by showing the world that its people are caring and accepting. As host, Shanghai managed to stage a complex series of sporting competitions in fragmented locations in a vast city across a short space of time, often under difficult circumstances, but always with the same eagerness to impress and reassure its visitors.

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