Orlando to host summer 2022 Special Olympics
Special Olympics plans to announce today that Orlando will host the organization’s USA Summer Games in 2022, a coveted sporting event that promises to have a $61 million impact on Central Florida’s economy.
“Our athletes are over the moon excited the USA games will be here,” Sherry Wheelock, president/CEO of Special Olympics Florida, said Thursday.
Orange County commissioners last week voted unanimously to offer $2 million to boost chances for landing the event, which would bring 4,000 athletes, 1,500 coaches and 20,000 families and fans from all 50 states to the region.
Like most Super Bowl MVPs, Special Olympics athletes who earn a spot in the national games can celebrate by saying, “I’m going to Disney World”
because many of the athletic venues are located on Disney properties.
The announcement and contract signing is due to take place this morning at the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex at the Walt Disney World Resort in Kissimmee, host of this year’s Special Olympics Florida State Games, which open today.
Special Olympics is the largest sports organization in the world for people with intellectual disabilities, boasting 5 million athletes in 172 countries.
Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer welcomed the news as “more proof that our region has become a premier sports event destination.”
“The games will bring thousands of visitors to Central Florida, bolstering our economy by filling our restaurants, shops and hotels,” he said Thursday. “But more importantly, the games will give us the opportunity to welcome and host some of the most inspiring athletes in the country.”
Orange County Mayor Teresa Jacobs also was enthused.
“It is a wonderful opportunity for the families and the athletes to train and compete in Orange County,” she said. “Their passion and drive is an inspiration for our entire community.”
Central Florida’s bid for the games June 5 through June 10, 2022, beat out proposals from at least four other states, including New York.
“I think the difference for us [was] we provide worldclass experiences and offer world-class athletic venues,” said Joe Dzaluk, a retired IBM executive who is president and CEO of Orlando’s Special Olympics 2022 bid.
Events will be held at the Wide World of Sports Complex, the YMCA Aquatic Center and the U.S. Tennis Association campus in Lake Nona.
The Special Olympics USA Summer Games, held every four years, promises to fill the equivalent of 57,000 hotel rooms, Dzaluk said. The Games comprise 17 sports and athletes from the US and the Caribbean.
He said the games and Orange County are a great match.
“Special Olympics have inspired thousands of people through the power of sports,” he said. “And Orange County has long been known as a welcoming destination for families and boasts some of the world’s most famed attractions, making it the ideal location for the unifying and inspiring Special Olympics Games.”
Florida has 47,000 Special Olympians, though the number is expected to double to 100,000 in the next four years because of recruitment efforts and growing popularity, said Sherry Wheelock, president/CEO of Special Olympics.
Five years ago, the organization had 20,000 athletes.
About 3,200 Special Olympians reside in Orange County.
Seattle is hosting the USA Summer Games this summer.
Florida is sending a contingent of 230 people to the Seattle games, including chaperones and 2,180 athletes in 17 sports.
Founded in 1968 by Eunice Kennedy Shriver, the Special Olympics is dedicated to empowering individuals with intellectual disabilities to become physically fit, productive and respected members of society through sports training and competition, according to its website.
Shriver died in 2009 of a stroke at age 88. She was the sister of President John F. Kennedy and U.S. senators Robert F. Kennedy and Ted Kennedy.
According to the World Health Organization, up to 3 percent — or nearly 200 million people — of the world’s population have intellectual disabilities.
The WHO lists intellectual disability as the largest developmental disability in the world.