Newcastle, New South Wales will play host to the first ever Special Olympics 2013 Asia Pacific Games with the opening ceremony on Sunday 1 December. More than 2,000 athletes from 32 countries plus officials, supporters, spectators and volunteers will start arriving in Newcastle on Thursday.
It’s not to be confused with the Paralympics but the Special Olympics offers Olympic-style individual and team sports that provide meaningful training and competition opportunities for persons with intellectual disabilities. The participants will compete in Athletics, Badminton, Bocce, Basketball, Cricket, Football, Table Tennis, Ten Pin Bowling and Swimming.
The performers will be part of a two hour Opening Ceremony spectacular of music, dance and fireworks to be held at Hunter Stadium. The Opening Ceremony features the who’s who of Australian music including Marcia Hines, Anthony Callea, Iva Davies, The McClymonts, Doug Parkinson and Marina Prior. Aside from these fantastic performers there will also be performers from Newcastle and the Hunter, lighting of the Games cauldron as the Special Olympics Law Enforcement Torch Run reaches the stadium, reciting of the Athletes’ Oath and of course the official opening.
Special Olympics is the world’s largest sports organisation for children and adults with intellectual disabilities, providing year-round training and competitions to more than 4.2 million athletes in 170 countries.
In June 1962, Eunice Kennedy Shriver started a day camp for children with intellectual disabilities at her home in Maryland, USA. She started this camp because she was concerned about children with intellectual disabilities having nowhere to play. Using this as an example, Shriver, who was head of the Joseph P. Kennedy Jr. Foundation and part of President Kennedy’s Panel on Mental Retardation, promoted the concept of involvement in physical activity and competition opportunities for people with intellectual disabilities. Camp Shriver became an annual event, and the Kennedy Foundation (of which Shriver was executive vice president) gave grants to universities, recreation departments and community centres to hold similar camps.
Shriver and Kennedy’s oldest sister, Rosemary Kennedy, underwent a lobotomy in an effort by their father to cure her mental disability. The brain damage inflicted by the operation caused her to be permanently incapacitated. This disability is often credited as Shriver’s inspiration to form Special Olympics.
The first International Special Olympics Summer Games were held at Soldier Field in Chicago in 1968. Anne McGlone Burke, a physical education teacher with the Chicago Park District and recipient of a Kennedy Foundation grant, began with the idea for a one-time Olympic-style athletic competition for people with special needs.
More than 1,000 athletes from across the United States and Canada participated but participation is now worldwide. In 1971, The U.S. Olympic Committee gave the Special Olympics official approval to use the name “Olympics”. The first 1977 Special Olympics World Winter Games were held in February 1977 in Steamboat Springs, Colorado, USA. In 1988, the Special Olympics was officially recognised by the International Olympic Committee (IOC).