Special Olympics: Hamilton, Nowitzki lend their voices to World Games

As the Special Olympics looks to change the attitude towards disabilities, its athletes are inspiring people the world over

Special Olympics (photo: DW)
Special Olympics (photo: DW)


As the Special Olympics World Games kicked off with its opening ceremony in Berlin's Olympic Stadium, former Dallas Mavericks' star Dirk Nowitzki had one simple request: "Come out and support all the athletes."

The basketball star was not alone in lending his support to the Special Olympians as seven-time Formula 1 champion driver Lewis Hamilton sent a message to the 7,000 Special Olympics athletes from 180 countries, especially those athletes from Great Britain.

"It's really amazing what you are able to do out there," Hamilton said in a video. "Just go out and have the best time and enjoy yourself."

Taking part

Indeed, as Hamilton implies, the "taking part" is as, if not more, important than the competition at the Special Olympics World Games, adding: "I am massively inspired and so proud of all of you."

"It is not about winning or losing but about engaging in sport," said Dirk Nowitzki, the NBA's Most Valuable Player in 2007, who hails from from Würzburg, Germany. "It's about athletes coming together and having the chance to play and learn from sports, just like I did," Nowitzki said after an appearance with the German Special Olympics 3-on-3 basketball teams. "I am happy to experience this."

Romania's five-time Olympic gold medalist Nadia Comeneci is similarly inspired, and not just by the athletes. "Special Olympics is not just about a big event like Berlin, important though that is," she wrote recently. "It's also about the work done at grassroots level" by coaches, trainers and administrators.

3,000 coaches have joined the athletes in Berlin. But that is a drop in the ocean compared to those who work with the six million athletes with intellectual disabilities globally "using sport to create an inclusive world for people of all abilities," as Comeneci, a Global Ambassador for Special Olympics, wrote in a Laureus Sport for Good column.

Challenge to German, European sports clubs

Among the star power boosting Special Olympics in Berlin is a member of unofficial United States royalty. Timothy Shriver, the Chairman of Special Olympics, is a part of the Kennedy family. His mother, Eunice Kennedy Shriver, the younger sister of President John F. Kennedy, helped start the Special Olympics.

He told DW he sees the Games in Berlin specifically helping German and European sports clubs further open their doors to Special Olympians. "We're very confident that this country will embrace the idea of the Special Olympics as a challenge to be more inclusive in sports clubs and schools."

"Less than 10% of the clubs offer sport for Special Olympics athletes. I hope that the Special Olympics World Games will create more attention."

We hope that this message resonates throughout Europe," Shriver told DW. "People with intellectual disabilities have something unique to offer."

Changing attitudes

As the Special Olympics' inspirational athletes and message continues to resonate around the world, the hope is that events in Berling can further change the perception. "Let's change public attitudes towards disability, Special Olympics," Drogba, the former Ivory Coast football star, has tweeted.

He, like Nadia Comeneci, famous for her the first-ever Olympics perfect gymnasitcs score of 10 in 1976, is a Global Ambassador for Special Olympics. As is Irish golfer Padraig Harrington, American figure skater Michelle Kwan, Chinese tennis star, Li-Na, and a host of other stars from the world of sport.

Speaking to the athletes, Formula 1 driver Lewis Hamilton said in his video: "I am massively inspired and so proud of all of you, I don't think anyone can understand just how hard the journey has been for all of you to be able to be where you are."

As the World Games continue to inspire people across the globe, many, it seems, are coming closer to that understanding.

Edited by: James Thorogood

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