Sunday,23 September, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1267, (22 - 28 October 2015)
Sunday,23 September, 2018
Issue 1267, (22 - 28 October 2015)

Ahram Weekly

A mission so pure

In an exclusive interview with Al-Ahram Weekly, Peter Wheeler, Special Olympics international chief of strategic properties, spoke to Abeer Anwar

Al-Ahram Weekly

One of highest-ranking officials of Special Olympics, Peter Wheeler, the organisation’s international chief of strategic properties, spoke at length about the movement’s activities and its future.

“We created strategic properties five years ago and we looked at all the properties and assets that Special Olympics has that we control and we figured out how to make them more valuable, providing them more marketing value and also maximising them to help Special Olympics around the world,” Wheeler said.

“Our World Games are the most important for us as they raise a lot of funds, such as the Enforcement Torch Relay and the Very Special Christmas .We are also trying to use music all through the year to raise funds for Special Olympics.

“We also use this money for the programmes that need help all over the world.

“I got involved with Special Olympics at the age of 19 when I was at the college of North Carolina and I saw a film on Special Olympics. I thought it was a cool idea and I joined the movement and after university in 1974 I started to be a volunteer,   working a lot with Mrs Kennedy Shriver, founder of the Special Olympics movement.

“I started it as a career officially in 1979. I have seen it grow from thousands of athletes to millions. What attracted me to the movement and to stay working with Special Olympics for 33 years was the mission which was so pure, and also the athletes whom you learn a lot from -- how to approach life and live it to its fullest and how to make the best of given talents. Then I realised that there is so much work to be done and that is why I have continued and will continue.

“There are 200 million people around the world with intellectual disabilities but we have only reached 4.5 million so you feel that you are climbing a mountain but are not near the summit by any means and this is what inspires me to go on.”

In 2010, Wheeler assumed responsibility for leading the strategic properties and efforts for the Special Olympics movement. He continues his role in overseeing the A Very Special Christmas music series. 
Prior to assuming this position, he led Special Olympics’ broadcasting strategy and planning, as well as the legacy effort worldwide around the 2007 World Summer Games in Shanghai. In this role he served as a producer for several broadcast events, including the opening ceremony, Global Family Forum Show, Global Youth Summit and the Special Spirit in China. 
Previously, Wheeler held a variety of senior executive positions within Special Olympics, including executive vice president responsible for leading The Campaign for Special Olympics, the movement’s first major fundraising campaign initiative. He was vice president of external affairs, responsible for the oversight of fundraising and communications worldwide. As chief communications officer, he was responsible for leading the global communications strategies. 
Other leadership roles in the 33 years Wheeler has been involved with Special Olympics include executive director for the Special Olympics World Games in Connecticut in 1995, and programme director of Special Olympics Massachusetts.

As for the 2015 World Summer Games, Wheeler said they were “fantastic and the venues were terrific but what was so exciting was the number of people who attended the games. We had over 100 celebrities in basketball, football, tennis, etc. who went on field and played with our athletes.

“I think when Shriver started the movement she thought only about the athletes’ welfare but she never imagined how the movement would have an impact on all the people that got in contact with such fascinating athletes. We are all different and we should all celebrate our differences.”

This is Wheeler’s second visit to Egypt; the first was in 1997. “We are looking at where our next World Games would be .There is certainly an interest in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region. We have never been there before. We went to Asia several times, to Europe and the US so it would be wonderful to have it in the MENA region. Egypt certainly did a fantastic job in organising the 8th SO MENA Regional Games and I think Egypt has been one of our leading programmes for many years and very progressive. I think Egypt has a great chance to organise since it has its history, its facilities and its welcoming people.”

Wheeler added that while the Special Olympics has seven regions, MENA was the first to have a winter games, to be held in Lebanon next January, “so it has always been a pioneer.

“[MENA director] Ayman Abdel-Wahab with his wisdom decided to give the region’s athletes the opportunity to train a year ahead of the World Winter Games in Austria 2017. The MENA team here is very committed. They are the only region having their regional games every two years despite all the fights and wars here and there. The region has grown tremendously since 2000. It continues to grow despite all the challenges that no region in the world is going through or faced. They are targeting a quarter million athletes in 2020.

“Two weeks ago there was a competition held in Syria and I said ‘you’re kidding’. But life goes on and people, when they get involved in Special Olympics, have hope and they feel they can still do it in spite of all the wars or fights here and there. The region is continuing to grow and they are having more coaches, and are expanding the number of sports and the unified sports as well which is so terrific. I think the region is very strong due to the team that Ayman built here and the passion and the commitment they have to the movement.”

When asked about the first Special Olympics World Cup that was scheduled to take place a year ago, Wheeler said, “It is still a challenge although we have the 24 teams that qualified. We want to make sure that we do it terrifically and that is why we are postponing it.”

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