The perfect show
The president of Special Olympics International tells Inas Mazhar how pleased he was following the enormous success of the World Summer Games in Dublin
Tim Shriver, president of Special Olympics International, a movement founded in 1968 to promote physical fitness and social opportunities for the world's mentally disabled, has praised the superb organisation of the World Summer Games held last month in Ireland. "Ireland brought a message to the world. The Games were extraordinary. I have never seen a country more united behind one idea in my life. I have seen every single town come together around one event. I have never seen a place or society more welcoming with people with difficulties in my life. Everything was perfect, the sport venues, the world-class sports played, lots of people showing their best. The spectators were great. They supported the athletes while they were practicing or competing, gave them so much confidence and got acquainted with them off the pitch which was great.
"I think if people say to me, 'Where should I go to see the best community for the Special Olympics,' I would say come to Ireland."
Shriver explained why the Games moved from the US for the first time in its 35-year history. "This is a global movement and we had to take it outside. Our task was to find a country that had the confidence to raise money for the sake of the Special Olympics. It's the movement of the people. Ireland was the first to bid. Japan and China will follow."
He said any country wishing to host the Games should submit a bid "giving us their facilities, capabilities, sponsorship potential, and ability to raise money and attract volunteers".
He added that many countries are capable of hosting the Special Olympics. "They just need to show the spirit. We're not about a fancy organisation; all we need is commitment and spirit. If they have them, they can organise the Games. We had more than 150 member nations in Special Olympics and there are definitely lots of nations that show interest in hosting the Games. That's how Special Olympics will spread more and more."
The participation of all the Middle East/North Africa (MENA) countries in the Summer Games was particularly welcomed by Shriver. "That was a great tribute. Despite the politics and economic situations in some parts of the region, some nations as Iraq and Palestine managed to attend, overcoming all obstacles that faced them. They didn't take the adversity but overcame it and that's why we appreciate that."
Shriver, son of Eunies Kennedy Shriver, founder of the Special Olympics movement, said he was proud of the progress made in the MENA region. "The region is developing well, great programmes in Egypt, a lot of opportunities to do more. They love sports and want to develop it even more and that needs more promotion in the region."
Shriver added that all regions still needed work in order for the Special Olympics to progress. "There are over one million athletes with learning disabilities around the world. New York needs work and so does New Delhi, Boston, Cairo. I've never met a mother who hasn't said that it was a problem having a mentally disabled baby. We need to work a lot to increase the number of athletes."
Though he has been president for over six years, Shriver says he's not yet satisfied. "I've been very dissatisfied. The world is a mess, parents are not yet able to deal with disabled children, we still face difficulties, tragedy. Many are denied a chance. But I'm grateful to the staff and volunteers throughout the world who work for the sake of Special Olympics."
Shriver said he was working hard alongside a team that globalised the movement. "It has been obvious here in Ireland that the movement is owned by the people. We have shown the athletes how they can be leaders, global messages are spreading and the movement is united. The Games have created a vision of changing not just the lives of the athletes but by showing the attitudes of people. We are changing how people think about people with learning disabilities because they have the same skills but different mentalities.
"Our mission is to never get distracted by nationalism and politics, but to concentrate and focus on our global message."
He described the Special Olympics as the most exciting and important movement in the world today. "It is the only movement I know of that is creating a symbol of acceptance and tolerance across cultures, religions and regions whether in the Middle East, Latin America, Africa, Asia, North America. All Special Olympics of the world are coming together.
"There is so much tension in the world, so many crises, so many problems, but Special Olympics tries to overcome them through our athletes and role models who have become symbols of how we can unite.
"My duty is to see this movement grow. We're trying to reach two million athletes by the year 2005.
"The Special Olympics themselves will make it possible for us to achieve even greater success in the years ahead. In the last two years good progress has been made and the future has unlimited hope."