‘We are bringing hope back to the Greeks’
The head of the Special Olympics, Timothy Shriver, speaks about the Games in Athens, the country’s crisis and its culture
You could tell from the flashy red shoe laces of this well-dressed American gentleman that there was something special about him. They were the official Special Olympics laces, and sporting them was the head of the Special Olympics Movement, Timothy Shriver, the son of the woman who started the movement half a century ago, Eunice Kennedy Shriver.
A true friend of Greece, Shriver is coming back to Athens ahead of the 2011 Special Olympics in the Greek capital that starts with the opening ceremony at the Panathenaic Stadium on Friday and concludes on July 4.
Brimming with pride and optimism, the 51-year-old member of the wellknown Kennedy family spoke to Kathimerini English Edition about the Special Olympics, Greece and the global crisis, suggesting that the Games will bring much-needed hope to the Greek people, in return for the values this country has given to the world. in the pool with them and said, “This is how you swim.” This is the beginning of the Special Olympics. Swim! You can swim too, you don’t have to be excluded. Show everyone you can swim. They are made fun of, they are laughed at, they are humiliated, they are told not to go to school, they are told by doctors that they don’t want to care for them, they are told they can’t live in certain neighborhoods, they are put into institutions that are like animal centers, all over the world.
This exclusion is not a joke. People say the Special Olympics is nice, so sweet, but it is very serious. This is sport to make a very serious point. This cruelty must end. never happened up until now.
Children with intellectual disabilities in Greece have not played together with their non-disabled peers. If you are 8 years old and you have Down syndrome, you don’t play with other 8-year-olds today in school. We hope that changes in the future, but until that changes, we will not successful be.
How many people would say that they knew of a child with intellectual disabilities when they were 6 or 8 or 10 years old? Most would say they did not know of any, they did not know they existed. So we grow up, we get to be 20 or 30 or 40 years old and then the eyes open. Well, why not at 8 or 10?
My target is that every school in the world will have a unified program; in every school, everywhere, that children with intellectual differences and children who do not have intellectual differences will compete and play on teams together. Most schools have no sports for children with special needs. My vision is that every school will have sports for children with special needs together with their non-disabled peers, so that they play together when they are 6 years old, 8 years old and so on. If we succeed in that regard, I think we will make a difference in the world. That’s what we want to do.
Yes, but they are still Greek ideas. Maybe I am naive, but I don’t think so. I think the Greek people celebrate the Acropolis, the philosophers, the traditions, because they still believe in them. Children all over the world read Plato, Aristotle and Homer. All over the world, they still study the architecture, drama and poetry of this place, so it’s still powerful. It is not an ancient idea, it’s a modern idea to believe in dignity. That’s the seed of democracy, that every human being contributes. It is a shocking idea, even today, that everybody counts. Not just the president or the prime minister or the judge, the philosopher, everybody.
The Special Olympics Movement is here saying, “You forgot someone.” Even Plato forgot someone. He wrote the right words, but he forgot someone. Like Jefferson, he wrote the right words, that all men are created equal, but he forgot people, he forgot the slaves. Plato forgot our people. Now we are here to say he forgot somebody, one more group.
That’s a big idea, a modern idea. This is the contribution of modern Greece, to say that even the ancients had forgotten someone and now we are saying in Athens that you too are included.
Hope. Greece has been suffering and when you’re suffering you lose hope. It’s here for you. If the two athletes from Somalia, who have no address, no bank account, no home, want to come here, and if they can come here, if they can rise up and do the best they can, if they can take the challenge, then all of Greece can do it. This has been a painful time for this country and many people are losing hope. These Games are coming to Greece to say, “Take hope back.”
It was necessary. I would dare to say that Greece needs the athletes of the Special Olympics as much as the athletes of the Special Olympics need Greece.
(left) is confident about the upcoming Special Olympics in Athens, whose Olympic torch has also visited the island of Skopelos (right) during its tour around the country and which get under way this Saturday.