Table Speech

Special Olympics ─ A Bridge to an Inclusive Society ─

July 11, 2018

Ms. Yuko Arimori
President & CEO,
Special Olympics Nippon Foundation

 Special Olympics provide year-round sports training and competitions to athletes with intellectual disabilities. We have Paralympics for athletes with physical disabilities and Deaflympics for those with hearing impairments. Children and adults with intellectual disabilities from all around the world can participate in the Special Olympics.

 Eunice Kennedy Shriver, sister of the late John F. Kennedy, founded the Special Olympics in 1962 when she held a summer day camp for people with intellectual disabilities. Having an intellectually disabled sister, Eunice strove to promote respect, inclusion and acceptance of the disabled so that they would not be deprived of equal opportunity caused by ignorance, stereotype and prejudice. Back in the 1960s and 1970s, many of those with intellectual disabilities had no choice but to live in custodial institutions, rendering them neglected and excluded from society. By the 1980s and 1990s, there were some improvements made to their living conditions and environment yet they were still far from being active members of society. This year marks the 50th anniversary of the International Special Olympics movement which has now spread to 170 countries where 5 million athletes have participated in various sports programs. Here in Japan, we will celebrate the 25th anniversary next year. I must say a lot remains to be done to ensure social inclusion by 2020 when Tokyo hosts the Olympic and Paralympic Games.

 Being engaged with the Special Olympic movement, I learnt that its goal is to instigate a mind shift not merely among the athletes with disabilities but the general public to open their minds to a wider world of human talent and potential. We work to raise awareness about the importance of giving those with intellectual disabilities the same opportunities and experiences as everyone else to maximize one’s potential. All of us, with and without disabilities, can find joy, confidence and fulfillment by playing sports that can unite people from all walks of life.

 We now focus on the program of Unified Sports which aims to promote social inclusion by joining people with and without intellectual disabilities on the same team. Approximately an equal number of athletes and partners of similar ability and age train and compete as teammates in Competitive Unified Sports. For example, six intellectually disabled athletes and five non-disabled partners form a soccer team of eleven. There are two other models which are Unified Sports Player Development and Unified Sports Recreation where team play makes practices more fun and games more challenging and exciting for all, including coaches and family members. First-hand experience of joining forces as teammates leads to deepen understanding on different skills and potentials, build friendship and generate a positive impact among the participants, local communities and companies with long-term transformative effects in the wider social arena.

 Major League Soccer World Championship of Unified Sports will be held in Chicago this July. Today I want to share the video of the Japan Unified Soccer Tournament organized by Special Olympics Nippon Foundation (video showing). As you can see, all the players are so athletic and it is hard to differentiate who has the disability or not. This program made us all realize that a person can dramatically transform himself/herself if given an opportunity. I am delighted to announce that a team from Fukushima will make their first tour abroad when they join the Championship in Chicago. The condition of entry was to have a partnership with a professional team in Japan. Thanks to the generous cooperation and support given by the Japanese professional soccer team Nagoya Grampus, we could secure a place in the Championship and get excellent training by their coaches. I am also grateful to Toyota Motor Corporation for being the Global Partner of the Special Olympics. Today let me share another video produced by Toyota jointly with Nagoya Grampus (video showing).

 I am sure many of you look forward to the 2020 Tokyo Olympic and Paralympic Games. All the athletes who compete in the Games are non-disabled or physically disabled. But the spectators can be more diversified, including the intellectually disabled, wheelchair users and the elderly. I think Special Olympics can play an instrumental role in making society realize different needs of people in different conditions. As I close my speech, let me ask for the generous support and understanding by companies to the Special Olympics so that our initiatives will be further promoted and extended. I am convinced that we can create a true human resource legacy in 2020 and beyond by our joint efforts.