Tuesday 21 November 2017

'Sport reveals the greatest of the human spirit,' says JFK nephew

Matt English, CEO of Special Olympics Ireland, left, with Team Ireland's Peter Malynn
Matt English, CEO of Special Olympics Ireland, left, with Team Ireland's Peter Malynn
Kevin Doyle

Kevin Doyle

Ireland is honouring the Kennedy legacy with its attitude to the Special Olympics, John F Kennedy's nephew, Tim Shriver, has said.

The current CEO of the organisation believes the Dublin games in 2003 brought expectation on other countries to a new level.

In particular, he said that the host town programme, which saw residents of 177 towns and villages welcome athletes from all over the world into their homes, was "the greatest ever".

Mr Shriver's mother, Eunice Kennedy Shriver, founded the Special Olympics in 1968, after years campaigning for better services for people with intellectual disabilities - including sister Rosemary.

In an interview with the Irish Independent he said that his mother's vision of the movement, which this week sees over 6,000 athletes take part in the World Games in Los Angeles, is encapsulated in Team Ireland.

"I think my mother would be very proud. She was very proud, especially to be in Ireland for the games in 2003. But she had a terrific commitment to the future. She would not want people thinking about her in the past," he said.

"She would want us to be here remembering that there are 300 million people with intellectual challenges around the world. Most of them are still subjected to the worst kind of mistreatment. If we bring these playing fields of sport to them we can change that. We have as much to be proud of as we do to be challenged by," he said.

The Irish delegation in LA includes 88 athletes, a management team of 40 and 155 volunteers. Over 160 other countries are taking part. It took two hours for the delegations to parade through LA's Memorial Coliseum at the Opening Ceremony, which was addressed by both Mr Shriver and his sister, Maria, who is a former first lady of California and ex-wife of Arnold Schwarzenegger.

"There are certain things in life that words don't do justice to. There's a sense that we're all in this together here," said Mr Shriver.

"All the boundaries come down a little bit and you walk into the gym and think 'wow, everybody here is ok'. We don't have to put on our façades. The feeling of togetherness - not just the word, but the feeling - is a pretty profound one."

Asked why he believes Special Olympics has such a high profile in Ireland, he said that the movement's ethos sits well with his view of the Irish mindset.

"As much as I wish I was fully Irish, I've got a little American in me too," he laughed. "My sense of the Irish people is that there is a great love of collegiality and friendship.

"The Irish people are always putting friendship at the top. Walk into any pub, any restaurant, into any school in Ireland and the sense is one of friends you haven't met yet.

"This is a movement of friends you haven't met yet. The Irish seem to understand that, while that's a challenge in one respect, it's also a joy to meet a friend you've not yet encountered."

He said the great thing about the games in Ireland was that "the entire nation became a part of it".

"In some ways that's the aspiration of our movement," Mr Shriver said.

He described the host town programme as "the greatest ever", adding: "My hope is that host towns will shift from being something that happens around the games to something that happens every day. "

Mr Shriver has spent he week visiting different events and took part in a unified soccer game - where athletes that have intellectual challenges play with people who don't - alongside CEO of Special Olympics Ireland, Matt English. He also praised personalities such as Team Ireland Ambassador, Robbie Keane, who are promoting the games in LA.

"We're so grateful to Robbie and others like him who come out to give that sense that the greatest in sports are here. And they are. But also to remind us that the greatest in sports are also the athletes of Special Olympics.

"The big game-changer at these games is the recognition that our athletes are not just great human beings, but great athletes. Sport reveals the greatest of the human spirit."

Irish Independent

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