Special Olympics Bharat
The Special Olympics program came to India in 1988 with the formation of Special Olympics India in Mumbai, Maharashtra. The movement had approx 10,000 Athletes enrolled with it at that time. By the time it moved to Bangalore in 2001 it showed signs of stagnation.
Strongly endorsing the need of a sports program for persons with Intellectual Disabilities in India drove Air Marshal Denzil Keelor PVSM, KC, AVSM, VrC to take up the challenge. Special Olympics Bharat was formed and registered in 2001 under the Indian Trust Act 1882.By 2004, 28,652 Athletes and 1860 Coaches from 22 States were registered in the SO Bharat program supported by the Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment.
SO Bharat was recognized as a National Sports Federation on 19 January 2006 by the Ministry of Youth Affairs and Sports and was upgraded to the Priority Category on 8th April 2006. The MYAS scheme enabled us to implement the Special Olympics Program across all the States and Union Territories of India. Concurrently, the Sarv Shiksha Abhyan (SSA) covering 1 million schools all over rural areas provided us a platform to reach out to a large segment of the Children with Special Needs (CWSN)
Strengthening support of the Govt of India
The first challenge faced was to be able to take the team to the Special Olympics World Winter Games to be held in Ireland in 2003. Through the intervention of Ms. Jayshree Banerjee, MP Rajya Sabha at that time we were able to participate. In this context it would be pertinent to document support extended by Mr. Ram Naik who was the Minister of Petroleum and Natural Gas at that time. Under his advisory the ministry bore the cost of travel of our team to Ireland to the tune of Rs. 1 Crore. This included cost of travel of the team to Ireland and for the Medals
Soon after, we endeavoured to become a federation and achieved success when our case was raised to the level of the Prime Minister. A visit by Dr. Tim Shriver, Mr. Bart Corner and Mr. Ray Lane, Board Members Special Olympics International, in March 2005 consolidated our efforts. In 2006 we were recognized as a National Sports Federation and were upgraded to the Priority Category in April of the same year, bringing us at par with all other National Sports Federations. This also made us the first Special Olympics organization in the world to receive this recognition. The inherent significance of this is that our Athletes (Persons with Intellectual Disabilities) participating in International Competitions will be treated at par with those without Intellectual Disabilities.
Ministry of Youth Affairs and Sports assumed responsibility for the training and participation of the SO Bharat National Team for all subsequent Special Olympics World Games
Accentuating their support to SO Bharat and promoting Inclusion the Government of India institutionalized Cash Awards to Special Olympics winners in January 2015
One Woman’s Vision
Special Olympics International was started by Eunice Kennedy Shriver , sister of former President of the United States of America, John F Kennedy. The idea was born out of Shriver’s experience of witnessing the social exclusion of people with intellectual disabilities who were routinely placed in custodial institutions. Shriver believed that with equal opportunities and experiences as everyone else, people with intellectual disabilities could accomplish far more than ever thought possible. She was convinced that children with intellectual disabilities could be exceptional athletes and that through sports they can realise their potential for growth.
A Global movement
She started Camp Shriver for children with disabilities at her home in Potomac, Maryland, in 1962. The camp became an annual event and promoted the concept of involvement in physical activity and competition opportunities for people with intellectual disabilities. The Kennedy Foundation (of which Shriver was executive vice president) gave grants to universities, recreation departments and community centers to hold similar camps. In 1968, the Camp evolved into the Special Olympics, offering people with intellectual disabilities across the world the chance to play, the chance to compete and the chance to grow.
Mrs. Shriver breathed her last on August 11, 2009, leaving behind a strong legacy, having initiated to transform the lives of the most neglected section of the society. In honor of her life and impact EKS Day is celebrated across all the National programs of Special Olympics, in the month of September each year. The theme of ‘Play Unified to live Unified’ is a call to action that stems from her teachings that on the playing field we forget our differences. As part of EKS Day, the world is invited to join people with intellectual disabilities and those without as they play together – unified – and teach the world to live unified. The Special Olympics movement helps over 4.2 million people with intellectual disabilities in over 170 countries. Glimpses of a Legend
All Special Olympics Bharat state programs pay tribute to Mrs. Shriver by way of hosting varied Unified Sport as well as non-Sport events in the month of September, each year.