The Special Olympics’ World Games in Los Angeles

West Covina Host City for Team NipponAfter much anticipation and more than a year’s worth of preparation, the 14th Special Olympics World Games opened this weekend in Los Angeles. The Opening Ceremonies were yesterday at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum, and the full slate of competition has been ongoing since.

Our city of West Covina, CA is proud to be the Host City for Team Nippon, and the past week saw a wide array of activities, from the Torch Run passing through the city, to luncheons, dinners, speeches, dances, and more.

In total, over 6,500 athletes and 2,000 coaches representing 165 countries from around the world are here competing in sports that include gymnastics, basketball, track and field, soccer, softball, sailing, tennis, and many more. Los Angeles is the first United States host for the Summer Games in 16 years, though the 2009 Winter Games were held in Boise, Idaho. The 13th World Games were held in 2011 in Athens, Greece, with 2013’s Winter Games having been held in South Korea.

The games continue through August 2, with more than 500,000 expected visitors attending the games.

Participants include athletes who suffer from intellectual disabilities and the official Special Olympics website characterizes the games as

“… a world stage for our athletes to demonstrate on the playing field their courage, determination and spirit of sportsmanship…

“It’s a way to open eyes, to change attitudes and to break down barriers that excluded people with ID from the mainstream of community.”

The Special Olympics were founded in 1968 by the late Eunice Kennedy Shriver, sister of President John F. Kennedy and wife of Sargent Shriver, who also left his own mark in public service as the founder of Job Corps and of the Head Start program, and as a driving force behind the development of the US Peace Corps, having served as its first Director.

After a few years, beginning in 1962, of running her

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own day camp for children with intellectual disabilities who had nowhere else to participate in sports activities, Eunice Shriver, as head of the Joseph P. Kennedy Jr. Foundation (named after her late brother who had died in WW II), began awarding grants to universities and local recreation and community centers to establish similar camps. The movement had grown substantially by 1968 when 1500 athletes from the US and Canada attended the first Special Olympics Summer Games, a one-day event held at Soldiers’ Field in Chicago. Eventually, the US Olympic Committee allowed the organization that developed to use the term “Olympics” and the Special Olympics were officially recognized by the International Olympics Committee in 1988.

The Special Olympics does so much more than “just” hold its World Games. The organization is the world’s largest sports organization for children and adults with intellectual disabilities and provides training and competitions around the world for 4.4 million athletes. Somewhere in the world among 170 different countries, there is a Special Olympics competition virtually every day of the year, actually totaling an amazing 70,000 events per year.

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In addition to all this and to the World Games, since 2006, every four years there is also a Special Olympics USA National Games held, with athletes from all 50 states participating.

Special Olympics programs are provided to deserving and qualified athletes free of charge to the currently more than 4.4 million athletes participating around the
world who are involved in Special Olympics sports training and competition in 32 sports, all largely through private fundraising. Over the past few sessions, a proposed Eunice Kennedy Shriver Act that would authorize federal funding for Special Olympics Programs in the US has failed to pass the republican controlled Congress.

Now would be a great time to call your member of Congress and your US Senator and tell them that this is a very worthy cause that they should support passage of the Eunice Kennedy Shriver Act to help fund the important activities of the Special Olympics.

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