LAUSANNE, January 22, 2019 – Words matter. How did the Special Olympics grow from a minuscule 1,000 athletes from three countries, to over 5 million athletes from 173 nations all over the world? Words.
David Evangelista, Special Olympics Europe Eurasia President and Managing Director, delivered a powerful speech at the 82nd Annual AIPS Congress on Tuesday morning in Lausanne, Switzerland.
He discussed the importance of Eunice Kennedy Shriver, who spent her life fighting for justice and inclusion of those with disabilities in honor of her sister Rosemary Kennedy. In 1968 Kennedy Shriver put together the first ever Special Olympics at Soldier Field in Chicago, Illinois.
“Olympics stars were there, Rafer Johnson,” Evangelista explained. “Some of the most prolific American politicians in the world. Mayor Daley was there. And 1,000 people with special disabilities. How many spectators were there? Not one.”
But since 1968, that stigma has changed, and people are becoming more understanding of the power that words can have.
“She took a population that was imprisoned in institutions. She took a population that was faceless and nameless. She took a population given the titles of ‘retard’, ‘defect’, ‘mongaloild and ‘stupid’. She took them and she gave them uniforms, she gave them teams and coaches,” Evangelista said. “But most importantly, she gave them the title Olympic.”
After seeing Ghanaian journalist, Anas Armeyaw Anas stand faceless in front of a crowd at Monday night’s AIPS Sports Media Awards and carry out an important message, Evangelista was inspired by his courage, and reminded of Rosemary Kennedy and her sister’s words that changed the sport for the world.
Kennedy Shriver is not the only one whose words have impacted the Special Olympics. Evangelista went on to explain that for years, people with special needs and disabilities have grown familiar with the word, ‘no’. But AIPS has turned that ‘no’ into a ‘yes’.
“AIPS is the one that puts the faces on people with special disabilities in their sports uniforms,” Evangelista said. “In the pool, on the pitch, and on the basketball court.”
Evangelista wants others to understand that “No” to “Yes” is the story of AIPS for the Special Olympics.
“That’s what AIPS has brought to the power of sport and that’s what Special Olympics is so grateful for this entire family for.”