Local and international support is growing for a bid to hold the 2027 Special Olympics World Summer Games in Perth.
The Special Olympics World Summer Games, which differs from the Paralympics as it focuses on athletes with intellectual and developmental disability, has been held every two years since 1968.
Although the World Games moves around to a different city each time, it has never been held in the Southern Hemisphere, let alone Australia.
In July, Special Olympics Australia is intending to formally put forward a bid to host the Games for the first time.
Special Olympics Australia has received more than 60 letters of support from Government representatives, private businesses and resources, sports, media, and not-for-profit organisations for the Perth Games.
Dr Tim Shriver, Chair of Special Olympics International, has also lent support to the bid by asking the community to get behind the movement and calling on the heads of Government - particularly the Prime Minister and WA Premier - to get involved.
“All of you in Australia know the power of this movement, you know from your own athletes the urgency of inclusion, the urgency of creating a culture of welcome for people with intellectual and developmental challenges,” says Dr Shriver.
“You know how important it is for our schools and our sports clubs, for our employers and our housing infrastructure to all be places where people are welcome.
“Nothing will make this message more clear, more powerfully understood and more generally welcomed than the World Summer Games. I promise that [the Games] will change your life.”
Special Olympics Australia WA-based Board member and Chair of the World Games 2027 Bid Committee, Tanya Brown, says Dr Shriver’s call for community support is “heart-warming”.
“We are confident that Governments, corporates and philanthropists will respond positively,” says Ms Brown.
“To hear Dr Shriver’s personal invitation for Australia to bid to host the most inclusive humanitarian event in the world is exciting in our journey to become a more inclusive and welcoming society.”
If the bid to hold the Games in Perth is successful, it is expected to bring 8,000 athletes from 170 countries to the city.
The athletes will compete in 26 sports over 10 days, including basketball, gymnastics, cricket, bowling, athletics, table tennis and equestrian.
It is also expected to attract 19,350 international visitors, 7,650 interstate visitors and 500,000 spectators over the course of the Games.
The cost of the Games would be $136 million, however, it would return an estimated $212 million to the economy, according to a business case prepared by Ernst & Young, funded by a WA State Government grant.
Ms Brown explains the impact of hosting the World Games, considered the largest humanitarian event in the world, would also be massive for all Australians with intellectual disability as it would put inclusion in the spotlight.
“The World Games is not just a sporting event; it is so much more,” she says.
“It is a whole-of-community, global event that offers competition sports as well as a range of off-field activities such as research and policy [forums], leadership gatherings, the Law Enforcement Torch Run and health screenings.
“It is fitting for such a sport loving nation that, through the catalyst of sport, we can achieve systemic change for our nation and change views, change lives, change our nation and change the world.”
World Games bid is an exciting step towards inclusion
Athlete Leader Ben Haack, who is the Athlete Representative Director of the Special Olympics Australia Board, says the World Games is a “powerful and transformative” event that he would be excited to see in Australia.
“Just knowing that there’s a really good chance that [these] sorts of events are going to be happening in my country and even this part of the world, which has never happened before, is really exciting,” says Mr Haack.
“It’s just because the power of this event could transform the community and bring more people on board with the inclusion revolution.
“It’s taken quite a few years of work for us to build a big enough presence in this country for this event to be possible.”
Mr Haack, who competed at the World Games in 2003 in Ireland and 2007 in Shanghai, and has been involved with the Special Olympics movement for 20 years, says he knows first-hand the difference it can make.
“It’s a really good mechanism to have a really powerful conversation with your country, particularly at Government and corporate and big business level, about the challenges that people with intellectual and developmental disability face and the sorts of ways we [Special Olympics] can really make a difference - in terms of our sporting programs, our education programs, our youth programs and our health programs,” explains Mr Haack.
“For me it was really just community, connection, an opportunity to compete, feeling a sense of belonging and a level of respect that I just had never had before.
“It’s pretty much helped me to have a decent life - so that’s the power of the Special Olympics and there’d be a lot of athletes here and around the world who would say the same thing.
“In fact, there’d probably be a lot of volunteers and coaches who would say the same thing as well.”
For the broader Australian community, Mr Haack says the Perth Games would be an opportunity to make a difference.
“Come to Perth for the 2027 World Games and have a look at what’s going on, have a look at the event and have a look at the athletes and how they’re achieving - how successful they are and how connected they are,” says Mr Haack.
“Come to listen but also to engage with the sort of programs that we are talking about and listen to the successes of the organisation that it’s had, overseas as well, and then ask yourself ‘what role could I play to make a difference?’
“If I’m a business person, could I hire someone with a disability, if I’m in schools could I start running a unified school program or an inclusive sport program, if I’m in Government maybe I could start including Special Olympics a bit more into programming.
“Come to our event and then let’s see if we can make things better for this community.”
To people with intellectual and developmental disability who are already involved in the Special Olympics, Mr Haack says now’s the time to get serious with training and preparation for the big event.
For those who are yet to join, he says to find a local program to start with, via the Special Olympics Australia website.
For more information and to support Special Olympics Australia’s bid for the World Games, visit the Perth 2027 website.