As thousands of our athletes, coaches, family members and fans return home to more than 170 countries from Athens, they are spreading a message of unity everywhere they go. Not surprisingly, it’s catching on. Around the world, in a year filled with economic and political challenges, our athletes offer real examples of the acceptance, peace, and unity that the world hungers for.
Already in Namibia, a Healthy Athletes clinical director, Dr. Moloi, who attended the Games, secured a $3,000 sponsorship for Special Olympics Namibia before he even got off the airplane on his return home! He also secured an in-kind sponsorship of free flights to all parts of the country for Healthy Athletes clinical directors when they travel to conduct screenings for Healthy Athletes.
As Team Ireland returned to Dublin last week, one casual observer suggested that a “’Special Olympics’ roadshow should be commissioned to travel the length and breadth of the land, holding celebrations in each major town and city. The injection of pure joy and good spirits that this would generate would soon create the optimism and positivity needed to get Ireland going again.”
One of the most salient examples of unity throughout the Games was that of Team Israel, whose delegation was made up of Israeli Arabs and Jews. Upon their return home, Special Olympics Israel Board Member Tali Kornhauser orchestrated the team’s meeting with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu who proclaimed:
“I know that you compete every day – you must gather the strength, but you have discovered the strength that is within you. What strength you have! We are very moved. It is not just that that an Israeli delegation has gone out and made such achievements. It is a sign that there is a very special spirit here. I think that this is a triumph of your spirit. I think that perhaps what has touched our hearts the most.”
In Pakistan, Prime Minister Syed Yusuf Raza Gilani also congratulated the delegation, which returned with a total of 58 medals, calling the athletes “national heroes.” He urged others to “follow the footprints of these heroes and bring happiness and pleasure for their country and fellow countrymen.”
A Pakistani news source reported that, “One of the special athletes from Lahore, who got three gold medals, told [Prime Minister Gilani] that he had dedicated one of the medals to his late brother who was assassinated in Lahore sometime ago and asked for justice for his murder. The prime minister sympathized with the child and assured him that the government would take steps to provide justice to him and announced to provide free legal aid to him for the trial of case of murder of his brother.”
In Swaziland, National Sports Council CEO Dan Mavuso celebrated athletes’ achievements by saying “this is a very impressive performance recorded by the teams. As a sport governing body we have people who are disabled and those without disability but this team have performed better than those people without disability.”
The examples go on and on, but one thing is clear: as our athletes continue to spread the spirit of unity beyond the borders of Greece, we have an opportunity to join them. We can play unified with them, and we can live unified thanks to them.