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, following a meeting with him in September 2002. 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
From the Founder & CEO Air Marshal Denzil Keelor
(As told in March 2020)
After I retired from the Indian Air Force, I became the President of the YMCA. In 2000 I received a request to take over as Chairman of Special Olympics India, which was headquartered in Bangalore, running across nine states only. Within a years’ time I re-located the HQ to New Delhi. It is only natural that having an estimated population of 30 Million persons with ID in India I desired to reach out across the length and breadth of the country. To set up an organization became my immediate objective, to accomplish which, I selected teams at the National and State levels. In 2001 ‘Special Olympics Bharat’ was born as a new registered Trust, accredited by SOI, and a new Constitution was written
The first Torch Run, under the SO Bharat banner was held across 29 cities of India, commencing from Rajghat Delhi. When I recall the conception of SO Bharat I cannot elude mentioning the conflicts that had to be circumvented in order to see the light of the day. Re-locating the headquarters from Bangalore to Delhi, facing opposition from senior people, abrupt termination of funds etc. made the going tough. 2003 was the year for the World Summer Games at Ireland but there were no funds. Therefore fund raising was attempted and with support from a few Corporates SO Bharat sent its team of 103 Athletes and Coaches for the games. Ms Jaishree Banerjee MP, pursued to raise funds, which culminated into receipt of an award of Rs 1Crore from Sri Ram Nayak, Hon’ble Minister of Petroleum. This was a turning point in SO Bharat’s history. The amount was awarded to SO Bharat & the medalists on their return from the Games. The Athletes felt proud of the recognition and SO Bharat intensified participation at all levels.
The next milestone was achieved in 2004 during the Area Director’s Meet that was held in Goa. SOI awarded the Christmas Grant to SO Bharat. A five year Strategic growth plan was formulated and SO Bharat committed to register 500,000 new Athletes in this five year period. The grant enabled SO Bharat to leap forward and spread the program all over India. A vision was created, in conjunction with the Constitution.
I paced ahead to now, get SO Bharat recognized as a National Sports Federation. 2005 once again was the year of the World Winter Games which were held in Japan. This too was unfunded, pushing us once again to raise funds to support the outbound team. Before the delegation left for the World Winter Games Nagano in 2005, along with the Athletes I went to meet the then Prime Minister of India, Dr Manmohan Singh, placing my request before him in person. The presence of the visiting team from SOI, led by Dr Tim Shriver, the same year, complemented my endeavors. Their presence consolidated our claim for the Federation status.
The Ministry of Youth Affairs & Sports recognized SO Bharat as a National Sports Federation effective from 19 January 2006, upgrading it to a ‘Priority Category’ in April of the same year. This recognition of our Athletes remains the greatest demonstration of Inclusion, bringing them at par with the mainstream National and International level sportspersons, with respect to resources & support. The SO Bharat Camps now witnessed an enormous participation, running into 400 Campers or more, a magnitude that the Govt officials were not accustomed to. They had never experienced anything of the size and intensity of the SO Bharat program, a situation that we struggled for nearly two years before we gained control.
The SO World Summer Games Shanghai 2007 were the first funded by the Govt of India. I went with the delegation to the Games. I was overwhelmed to receive the ‘Spirit of China’ award. I felt the tide change and felt SO Bharat’s foundation getting reinforced. By 2008 SO Bharat spread to all the 31 States covering 300 out of the then, 679 districts having access to over 1.5 million schools (SSA) where over 300,000 children with Disabilities are registered. The platform for the Athletes was fortified.
The year 2008 was a golden year for SO Bharat. Thousands of Athletes & Coaches benefitted and the stage was set for us to move forward with “Sustained Quality Growth”
At the time I joined the program I did not realize the power of the Athletes, the strongest force that took me through the toughest challenges emerging from multiple sectors. Having fought crucial wars in the past and having served the Indian Air force I was well-equipped with the determination to confront and fight. My resolve to make SO Bharat happen strengthened as I took a closer look at the Athletes. I recall noticing, at an event, the joy and the positivity with which they pushed themselves to reach the finish line, each having a look of a winner. All this in a way overpowered all other odds
From an event I recall vividly, seeing the Athletes run as the whistle blew. They started to run, but in different directions! They needed guidance to stick to their tracks and they easily adhered to it. At the conclusion of the event, all the Athletes went for a prize. They all felt that they had done their best and eagerly awaited recognition, which so many of them, may have experienced for the first time on that day.
As a founder of the Special Olympics movement in a country as populated as India my one point focus has been on the structure, growth and development of the program to serve the multitude. Nevertheless, each story of achievement is a blessing for me. Every achievement is unique, extraordinary and is, in fact, a surprise. Rajkumar, the Athlete from the by-lanes of Sadar Bazaar, Delhi is a figure skater. After his victory at the World Winter Games 2013 he moved on to compete with the mainstream skaters, and is currently seeking training to Coach potential talent in the discipline. Figure Skating is not even a popular sport in India, and is financially demanding. When I see Ranveer, our golfing champion, to see him concentrate & compete is unimaginable. Ragini, Athlete from Delhi, how she managed to go back to the school where she was bullied, to show them her medals and achievements. The school now proudly displays her achievements. These stories spell the success of the program in India
As is my nature, I don’t look at one child. I look at the ‘whole’ lot. There are so many more who need to be uplifted although they may not be a part of the program. Everyone deserves to be Included. To cite an example, I earlier felt that the World Games throws the spotlight only on a few Athletes, leaving so many in obscurity. But after having gone for the Shanghai Games in 2007 I realized the tremendous impact it had on the program here in India. The impact was overwhelming. It transformed my perception
During the year 2009, the passing away of the founder of the Special Olympics movement, Mrs. Eunice Kennedy Shriver, dominated our thoughts. It was a huge loss and generated a wave of shock and sadness all over the world. We aspired to give her a bouquet of one million Athletes (which we accomplished on 11 March 2013) as a tribute to her for the extraordinary manner in which she created a totally new and exciting world for our Special Children, a world full of hope, joy and excitement. We regret we could not fulfil this wish in time. However, under the support and guidance of her leadership, we have grown, matured and flourished, bringing joy and happiness to many special children & their families. We can never forget that if it was not for her, the millions of people whose lives we are changing, may never have happened
Today, I am delighted to see how some people are breaking-out on their own like the Youth leaders, with and without Intellectual Disabilities. But I am always concerned for ALL of them. I am silent as what haunts me is what will happen to them eventually. My concern is for those who are not there with us. We have a huge ground to cover in India
I am also happy to see that we have entered the Schools, we are not only a splash of sports but we are nurturing a Unified generation through the unparalleled power of sports. I am also happy to see that external organizations want to associate with us. These are remarkable achievements for SO Bharat as an organization and as movement in true spirit. I dream of an India that enfolds all Persons with Intellectual Disability under the umbrella of Special Olympics.
I have hope in the society in accepting, respecting, recognizing & including our special children today & in the years ahead
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.