Story: Disability sport

Page 4. Special Olympics and Deaflympics

All images & media in this story

Special Olympics

The Special Olympics movement was founded by Eunice Kennedy Shriver in the United States in 1968. Special Olympics’ aim is to provide year-round training and competition in Olympic-type sports for children and adults with intellectual disabilities. In the 2000s there were more than 3.7 million participating athletes in more than 170 countries.

Alex Snedden

Alex Snedden became a Special Olympics athlete in 2006, when he played basketball for Special Olympics Waitākere. Snedden, who has Down syndrome, worked as a youth advocate. He also volunteered for the Auckland Food Bank and for a youth disability camp. Snedden played basketball for Waitākere at the 2009 National Games. In 2010 he represented Special Olympics Tāmaki at two swim meets.

In 1983 Grant Quinn founded Special Olympics New Zealand in Lower Hutt. By 2012 the movement had a network throughout New Zealand, with 6,000 athletes training and competing in 13 summer and winter sports. Special Olympics ran more than 200 events around the country annually. More than 2,500 volunteers provided support, facilitated by a network of regional sports coordinators.

Special Olympics helps athletes with intellectual disabilities achieve their full potential through athlete leadership programmes, health and well-being services, and young athlete programmes.

In addition to local events, Special Olympics hold regional and national games. Athletes who compete in national events may become eligible for international competitions. The Special Olympics World Summer Games and World Winter Games are each held every four years, on an alternating two-year schedule. The 2019 World Summer Games team was the largest yet sent by New Zealand, with 43 athletes (including five Unified athletes without an intellectual disability), 21 coaches and support staff.

Deaf sport and the Deaflympics

Deaf people compete in sporting competitions with hearing athletes, but also in competitions specifically for deaf athletes. These competitions are not based on the idea that deaf athletes are at a disadvantage in competing with hearing athletes. Instead the movement grew from the desire for deaf athletes to compete against, and socialise with, others from the deaf community.

Sports communication

In 2008, Erich Krogmann of Palmerston North competed in the 48th New Zealand Deaf Games. He also played rugby and cricket alongside hearing teammates. Krogmann communicated with them through a combination of hand gestures, body movements and written notes. As Krogmann captained both his school rugby and cricket teams, the communication methods he developed were clearly effective.

In the 19th century deaf people began organising their own sports teams. The first deaf sports club was established in 1888, in Berlin. In 1924 Eugène Rubens-Alcais, who was himself deaf, organised the International Silent Games in Paris. These games were the first Deaflympics, attracting 148 athletes from nine countries. Since 1949 there has also been a Winter Deaflympics. These events are held every two years, alternating between summer and winter games. Now called Deaf Sport NZ, the Deaf Amateur Sports Association was formed in New Zealand in 1966.

In 1989 the 16th World Games for the Deaf, as the Deaflympics were then known, was held in Christchurch. A total of 995 athletes from 30 countries took part. The sports involved were athletics, badminton, basketball, road cycling, football, handball, shooting, swimming, table tennis, tennis volleyball, freestyle wrestling and Greco-Roman wrestling. New Zealander Johannes Ooterman won a gold medal in the individual cycling time trial. New Zealand also won two silver and four bronze medals.

How to cite this page:

Ian McDonald, 'Disability sport - Special Olympics and Deaflympics', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, (accessed 15 April 2024)

Story by Ian McDonald, published 5 Sep 2013, updated 1 Feb 2022 with assistance from Catriona McBean