Saturday 24 February 2018

New global boss of Special Olympics to model plans on her Irish success

Special Olympics chief executive Mary Davis (Picture: Tony Gavin)
Special Olympics chief executive Mary Davis (Picture: Tony Gavin)
The Team Ireland basketball celebrate after winning gold in Los Angeles last year (SPORTSFILE)
Caroline Crawford

Caroline Crawford

The new global CEO of Special Olympics International has told how she hopes to bring the Irish template to sister organisations around the world.

Mary Davis' appointment as global CEO of the organisations marks the first time in its 50-year history that a person from outside the US has held the role.

Speaking from Washington Ms Davis said she was honoured to have been appointed as head of the organisation she has been involved with for over four decades.

Ms Davis first began working with Special Olympics Ireland as a volunteer in 1978 and was instrumental in bringing the Special Olympic Games to Ireland in 2003, serving as CEO.

She said the games not only changed the lives of Irish people with intellectual disabilities but also "transformed the nation" with each of the 177 host towns setting up clubs to assist the athletes in their own communities.

"They really are changing the lives of not just the athletes involved but also the country as a whole in terms of attitude of accepting people with an intellectual disability and why not, of course we should be, it shouldn't even be a question," she said.

She now plans to bring that model to other countries.

"The huge volume of volunteers, 24,000 volunteers, in Ireland is just an incredible number all ready and available to do whatever role and responsibility that they are encouraged or empowered or asked to do by Special Olympics Ireland.

"It is just an amazing organisation in Ireland and it's a template that I really want to bring all over the world," she said.

Following her time with Special Olympics Ireland, Ms Davis took up the role of managing director of Special Olympics Europe/Eurasia, overseeing the growth and development of Special Olympics across 58 countries.

In her new role as global CEO she intends to focus on two big goals for the organisation; improving opportunities for athletes to perform at their best by focusing on the quality of health and sports programmes and building positive attitudes and awareness of what people with intellectual disability can achieve.

"In doing that we hope to change the mindset of people who may still think that people with intellectual disability are not capable, are not able. That is just so not true and we saw it so many times across Ireland," she said. She will also continue to reach out to countries around the globe, including China, India, Russia and Latin American and African countries.

"We need to put a lot of resources into Africa. There's still a lot of stigma around the area of intellectual disability in countries in Africa and we have strong programmes there but we need to strengthen them even further," she said.

Mobilising volunteers and getting staff in place is a necessity in such countries where many people with intellectual disabilities are hidden away.

"Once we get them into community settings, give them a sports uniform, a ball, they suddenly start interacting, start coming to life and start learning, suddenly the community recognises the ability. In many cases we've helped to make the bridge between being literally tied up and going into a school situation as a result of participation in Special Olympics," she added.

In her role, Ms Davis is responsible for leading a global team of 250 staff. Special Olympics serves 5m athletes across 170 countries and holds nearly 100,000 Games and competitions annually. She will continue to work between Washington and Ireland where her husband and two of her four children still live.

Irish Independent

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