‘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.

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