I rise tonight to speak about the organisation Special Olympics. Special Olympics is a worldwide, not-for-profit organisation that transforms the lives of people with intellectual disability through regular sports participation and competition. Let me begin by providing some background information about the organisation. Special Olympics was established in the USA in 1968 by Mrs Eunice Kennedy Shriver, the sister of former US President John F Kennedy. The International Special Olympics organisation has implemented EKS day, named after the founder, and the inaugural celebration was held last Saturday.
In Australia, the national branch, Special Olympics Australia, was established in 1976. The patron of the organisation in Australia is Her Excellency, the Governor-General, Ms Quentin Bryce. The organisation is also promoted by a number of high-profile ambassadors including sport stars, actor Paula Duncan, singer Damien Leith and journalist Peter Overton. Mr Overton states:
Special Olympics is a great organisation that makes a difference to the lives of so many people. I’m always inspired by the achievements of the athletes, amazed at the skills of my fellow volunteers and proud of the great sponsors and donors that support us. I am really pleased to have found a rewarding role at Special Olympics and I hope more people realise there is a place for everyone here.
People with intellectual disability form the largest disability group in the world, and in Australia there are more than 500,000 Australians living with intellectual disability. Most people will have had an experience with a person with intellectual disability, whether it is an ongoing relationship with a family member or friend, or someone they have encountered in the course of their daily lives. Intellectual disability varies from person to person. For the purpose of their eligibility criteria, Special Olympics recognises that a person lives with intellectual disability if they have: an IQ below 70; difficulties with two or more adaptive skills such as self-care, communication, social interaction and learning; and a condition that came about before the age of 18.
Across the globe, nearly 3.5 million athletes participate in Special Olympics. Special Olympics Australia supports around 4,000 athletes in over 250 sports clubs across metropolitan and rural Australia. The average age of a Special Olympics Australia athlete is 27. Volunteers are an important part of the organisation with over 1,300 providing sports training and organising competitions every week. They also work on committees, manage events, provide photography services and raise funds. Special Olympics Australia offers 14 official national sports including, but not limited to, aquatics, athletics, basketball, soccer, golf, gymnastics, softball, and tenpin bowling. In 2009, more than 250 local competitions were held outside of regular training. The most popular sport in Special Olympics in Australia is tenpin bowling although most younger athletes—aged between 8 and 21—prefer aquatics and basketball.
I get great enjoyment from assisting the organisation and join in their SO, Special Olympics, activities whenever I get the chance. Since we were last in this place I have attended a number of SO activities. On 24 July I attended the state invitational indoor bias bowls games, held at the Devonport Bowls and Croquet Club in north-west Tasmania. Over 60 representatives from all over Tasmania competed in singles, pairs and teams. Later that evening I had the joy of attending the dinner with athletes, family members, volunteers and staff of SO Tas.
On 11 September I attended the Special Olympics 2010 state winter games held in Moonah, Tasmania. The weekend’s event saw athletes competing in basketball and indoor soccer competitions in a variety of divisions. The games were about skill development and fun, as well as embodying all that is good about sport. There were also competitive divisions which were an opportunity for athletes to put into practice their long hours of hard work and dedication at training. The challenge division includes specific activities designed to improve the athletes’ skill level, building their confidence and giving them a great sense of purpose and identity all the while having fun in the process. There is no doubt that these games bring out the competitive edge in the athletes, but it is such a delight to see the smiles on their faces and their true sense of teamwork. All divisions saw the athletes competing in a fun and exciting atmosphere in front of their friends, family and the wider community.
A bit more recently, on 25 August this year, I was fortunate enough to attend a Special Olympics Tasmania Schools Program Ribbon Day held in Kingborough at the wonderful Kingborough Sports Centre Stadium. By the end of the year, about eight such events will have been held across Tasmania and about 400 participants take part in the program each year in Tasmania. The southern ribbon day was attended by over 100 students of different ages and from a variety of schools. The day included basketball, soccer, tenpin bowling, skipping and various other activities. There was a ribbon for each participant and medals for the top three people in each event, some of which I had the opportunity to present. Once again it was wonderful to see all the participants enjoying themselves and supporting each other. The organisers and volunteers were also obviously enjoying the experience. I would like to thank the Claremont College students who gave up their time to help with the day.
The Special Olympics World Summer Games will be held in mid-2011 in Athens, Greece. The games are expected to attract 7,500 athletes from 185 nations with competitors taking part in 22 sports. It will be the largest sporting event in the world in 2011. Australia will be proudly represented by 130 athletes and 40 team officials. From my home state of Tasmania, Australia will be represented by Vincent Hall, Katie Wheeldon and Glenn Patterson in athletics. Josh Timbs, Luci Giblin and Tim Beattie will represent the nation in aquatics. Gary Burnside and Craig Hansen will be on the softball pitch, Lynn Tanner will be playing tenpin bowls and Kelly Binns will be on the tennis court. Tasmania also has Vicki Forsyth, and Leigh Oswin on the coaching team for the games in athletics and gymnastics respectively. This is Tasmania’s biggest ever representation at the games. I congratulate all athletes and officials on their selection and wish them a safe, successful and enjoyable trip to Athens. I know they are all looking forward to it.
The Special Olympics athlete oath is: ‘Let me win. But if I cannot win, let me be brave in the attempt.’ Winning is a fantastic experience, but it is more important to do our best and to enjoy what we do. Special Olympics is not just about sport; it encourages leadership, friendship and a healthy lifestyle. I would also like to quickly mention, in the couple of moments I have left, the Special Olympics logo. The logo has evolved over time but remains true to the vision of its creator, graphic designer Raymond Loewy. According to the Special Olympics Australia website:
The ‘globe of figures’ is meant to convey the impression of movement, play and activity, as well as friendship and joy. Each figure represents an athlete at play.
A common interpretation of the logo is that the arms of the figures represent the athlete at various stages of their Special Olympics journey: the lowest set of arms represents the athlete before Special Olympics, the middle set of arms is when they’ve first begun participating and the third set of arms are raised in victory as they develop confidence and pride.
The figures are arranged in a globe to represent Special Olympics as a worldwide movement.
Special Olympics is a wonderful organisation that has something for everyone, whether it is as an athlete or volunteer, for children or for adults. The organisation must be congratulated for bringing fun, pride and friendship to people with disability, while at the same time improving their health and wellbeing. In conclusion, I would like to pay tribute to the staff at Special Olympics Tasmania: Nic Stephen, who is the state manager; Tamara Stokes, the corporate relations manager; and Lennon White. Those three people do such a fantastic job and, I know, give much more to the organisation than they receive payment for and put in a lot more hours than they are paid for. They all do it with such great goodwill, good cheer and professionalism. I look forward to continuing my relationship with Special Olympics. I am really honoured when I am invited to attend the organisation’s events.