The Special Olympics

February 1, 2019 | Ria Khandpur

Special Olympics is the world’s largest sports organization for children and adults with challenges. It provides year-round sports training to more than one million people with physical and intellectual challenges. Special Olympics Bharat is the officially recognised programme of Special Olympics International which operates in India. India’s showing in the 2017 Special Olympics Games held in Austria was exceptional – Indian athletes bagged all of 37 gold medals, far more than the golds collected in any international games for the able-bodied. Despite the unprecedented performance by the athletes, the event went largely unreported by the media, speaking volumes about the stereotypes that we associate with persons with challenges.

There is enormous stigma associated with developmental and intellectual disability, so much so that most people believe that people with challenges are not normal and should be hidden from society. This leads to estrangement and isolation of the person with challenges, affecting their self-esteem and contributing to their (often) lower social competence. An event such as the Special Olympics has the potential to break this vicious cycle by giving opportunities to the person with challenges to demonstrate courage and experience the joy of sharing world-class achievement with friends, family and the local community.

The Kid from Nowhere is a movie in the popular culture, which showcases the story of a 12-year-old – John, who has Down Syndrome. It traces John’s transformation when he begins to train for the Special Olympics. It beautifully captures the emotions of John’s mother, who goes through her own personal journey from an overprotective parent to proud mother of an intellectually challenged son. This could well be the story of almost any intellectually challenged person who is given the right platform to showcase his/her abilities. Special Olympics strive to give that platform to people with challenges. The power of Special Olympics is driving change – change in the mindset of people about the role that people with intellectual disability could and should play, and the change that is required in our acceptance of the differences amongst us, of persons with intellectual disability. These changes could foster an environment of inclusion where the Intellectually challenged are treated with respect rather than sympathy.

As a society, we take time to accept the fact that persons with disabilities could do something to make us proud. Our young athletes at Austria have the brains, skills and courage that can inspire many of us to learn from them, challenge ourselves and add something of value to this world: Athletes like Rajbir Singh (age 17), a Ludhiana resident received a hero’s welcome when he landed in Chandigarh after winning two gold medals in the 2015 Special Olympics World Summer Games in Los Angeles. Sreelatha (age 15), earlier considered an insignificant child with special needs is today identified as the golden girl who won two gold medals in Special Olympics 2015 and made her country proud. Special Olympics provides persons with challenges an opportunity to showcase their talent and experience the excitement, joy and personal fulfilment.

About the author

Ria Khandpur is a student of class XI and has worked as a volunteer with the Amrit Foundation of India.