Special Olympics, United Through Sports, the International Olympic Committee (IOC), and the International Paralympic Committee (IPC) have come together for the first-ever United Through Sports Virtual Youth Festival. Athletes and youth of all abilities will participate in the virtual arena in Bangkok, Thailand, and around the world. In addition to sport and fitness competitions, Special Olympics athletes will enjoy an Opening and Closing Ceremony and a five-day educational program with speakers from organizations including Special Olympics, the IOC, IPC, UN, UNESCO, and many more.
Special Olympics athletes will participate in the festival in a variety of ways. With youth from around the world entering the talent competition, there are many must-see acts in the finals beginning on the United Nations World Children’s Day, 20 November, and continuing until 22 November.
A new fitness competition model created by Special Olympics will be launched at this international event. The concept for the competition places individuals and teams into varying ability categories based on who demonstrates the most personal improvement across three fitness tests, rather than using the traditional “best score” approach.
Special Olympics CEO Mary Davis will speak alongside the heads of the IOC and IPC during the Opening Ceremony. She will also speak at the opening of the educational program, and several Special Olympics athletes will serve as experts from 18-23 November. Ben Haack, a Special Olympics Athlete Leader from Australia and Board Member, will be speaking on a panel about inclusion in sports. Athlete Leader Kiera Byland from Great Britain will speak on a panel discussing the future of youth in sports, and Special Olympics Arizona (USA) athlete Sean Conkey will serve on a panel about e-sports. Special Olympics Thailand has been invited to participate in the hybrid event.
Special Olympics is a global movement founded by Eunice Kennedy Shriver in 1968 that aims to create a world of inclusion and community for people with and without intellectual disabilities, where every single person is accepted and welcomed, regardless of ability.
The mission of Special Olympics is to provide year-round sports training and athletic competition in a variety of Olympic-type sports for children and adults with intellectual disabilities, giving them continuing opportunities to develop physical fitness, demonstrate courage, experience joy and participate in a sharing of gifts, skills, and friendship with their families, other Special Olympics athletes and the community.
To date, Special Olympics includes over 5.5 million athletes with intellectual disabilities, one million coaches and volunteers in more than 100,000 competitions in a typical year in 32 Olympic-type sports through programs in 200 countries and jurisdictions.
The partnership between Special Olympics and UTS formed in 2019 on the Gold Coast in Australia at the SportAccord Sport Festival powered by UTS. During that event, Jon-Paul St. Germain, the Senior Director of Sport Development for Special Olympics, and Ben Haack were invited to be panel speakers. Together, they inspired the community to keep active and keep including people of different abilities, while opening up people’s hearts and minds. Special Olympics youth from the Queensland region came to enjoy the festival activities, and a partnership evolved.
One year later, Special Olympics is a patron of the 2020 Virtual Youth Festival, along with the IOC, IPC, SportAccord, and GAISF.
The future of the Special Olympics movement is bright, and together with UTS, they will ensure that the festival opens hearts and minds toward greater inclusion worldwide.
Special Olympics International Board Member and athlete Ben Haack shares his views with the international sport community.