Saturday 20 April 2019

'Ireland is our laboratory of excellence for Special Olympics movement'

Kennedy's nephew wants World Games to return here

World beaters: Team Ireland’s squad and officials celebrate after their 27-15 win to capture the basketball gold medal for asketball on Day Five of the 2019 Special Olympics World Games in the Abu Dhabi National Exhibition Centre. Picture: Sportsfile
World beaters: Team Ireland’s squad and officials celebrate after their 27-15 win to capture the basketball gold medal for asketball on Day Five of the 2019 Special Olympics World Games in the Abu Dhabi National Exhibition Centre. Picture: Sportsfile
Tim Shriver: The Special Olympics head hoped Ireland would bid for 2023
Ryan Nugent

Ryan Nugent

A "terrible stigma" towards people with intellectual disabilities still exists worldwide, even if it can be sometimes hidden, according to Tim Shriver, the nephew of former US president John F Kennedy.

Mr Shriver, whose mother Eunice Kennedy Shriver founded the Special Olympics 51 years ago, is now its president and feels the Abu Dhabi World Games has shown that they have finally come out of their infancy.

With her sister Rosemary having an intellectual disability, Ms Kennedy Shriver had a vision - beginning with the first Games being played out in her back garden - that has brought the Special Olympics to where it is today, with more than 7,500 participants.

Mr Shriver said the 2003 World Games in Ireland had a huge impact in that growth and managed to "unite a nation", something which the UAE is attempting to emulate.

"So, in some ways, the Ireland model is not the model of how to do a great event, it's how to change a country and I think that's what we're seeing this country trying to do as well," Mr Shriver said.

"I would love to see the Games go back to Ireland. I had a secret hope that Ireland might bid for the 2023 Games, which would have been the 20th anniversary, but that wasn't to be.

"We'll see, it's a big undertaking but I think our movement is always happy, we're always joyful when we're in Ireland."

Mr Shriver said that much work needs to be done to battle against the stigma towards intellectual difficulties worldwide.

"There's terrible stigma all over the world and it's subtle, it hides.

"Increasingly people think everything's done and then they move on with their lives and they ignore people who have challenges, people who are different, people who have different forms of intelligence, they're not seen still in mainstream life and in most places in the world," he said.

He hopes Ireland can continue to lead the way in the Special Olympics movement and insisted his family's connections to the country are as strong as ever.

"Ireland is in some ways our laboratory of excellence, so we need Ireland to be on the cutting edge, not where it is today but we need it to be growing and getting better and improving. Irish sport, Irish healthcare, Irish education," he said.

"We need more inclusion in schools in Ireland, we need stronger local clubs.

"People ask me where do I go to see what the Special Olympics movement can do, I say go to Ireland and we need that to be the case not just today, but five, 10, 20 years from now.

"The Irish spirit is incomparable. The Irish connection in my family is obviously permanent and eternal, I might even say.

"But the Irish work in Special Olympics has to stay on the cutting edge for us to be successful around the world."

A successful competition in the Middle East is coming towards its final days, and the Special Olympics president insisted there was "not a bit of fear" from his organisation about choosing Abu Dhabi, saying "it was an absolute easy decision".

Irish Independent

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