The Special Olympics movement began in the United States, where it was founded by Eunice Kennedy Shriver 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 over 170 countries around the world.
Alex Snedden has been a Special Olympics athlete since 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. In 2012 the movement had a network throughout New Zealand, with 6,000 athletes able to train and compete in 13 different summer and winter sports. Special Olympics run more than 200 events around the country annually. Over 2,500 volunteers provide support, facilitated through a network of regional sports coordinators.
Special Olympics helps athletes with intellectual disabilities achieve their full potential through athlete leadership programmes, health and wellbeing 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.
Deaf sport and the Deaflympics
Deaf people compete in sporting competitions with hearing athletes, but also hold 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. 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. They are held every two years, alternating between summer and winter games. The Deaf Amateur Sports Association was formed in New Zealand in 1963. In 2001 it became the Deaf Sport Federation of New Zealand.
In 2008 Erich Krogmann of Palmerston North competed in the 48th New Zealand Deaf Games. He also played with hearing teammates in rugby and cricket teams. Krogmann communicated with his hearing teammates in a number of ways, using a combination of hand gestures, body movements and written notes. As Krogmann captained both his school rugby and cricket teams it is clear that the communication methods he developed were effective.
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, swimming, shooting, table tennis, tennis volleyball, freestyle wresting and Greco-Roman wrestling. New Zealander Johannes Ooterman won a gold medal in the individual time trial. New Zealand also won two silver and four bronze medals.