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February 10, 2016
For Special Olympics it's time to be less Special and more Olympic

Christy Weir, director of Global Media and PR for Special Olympics
by Andri Yrkill Valsson, AIPS Young Reporter, Iceland
DOHA, February 10, 2016 – A total of 6.500 athletes, 165 countries and 25 Olympic type sports. A great event – indeed the largest humanitarian sport event in the entire world last year. We are talking about the Special Olympics World Games, held in July in Los Angeles.

To put its size in context, there were around 2.000 athletes competing at the 2012 Olympics in London. And with a big event like the World Games, media coverage follows – and the amount has changed a lot over the last couple of years.

Media coverage of the Special Olympics has never been greater than in the World Games in Los Angeles last year. With 20 billion media impressions, more than 20 million people in the US alone tuned into the Opening Ceremony.

It was the first time in an almost 50 year history of the Special Olympics that the World Games are televised globally. People could tune in from all over the world, which was a huge step in breaking down barriers that exist for people with intellectual disabilities through the power of sport.

But with more coverage, there is also a job to be done. Christy Weir, director of Global Media and PR for Special Olympics, mentioned that reporters are perhaps not following the athletes at the Special Olympics like the professional ones. Because of that, they need to be educated about the background stories that are not out in the open.

“We don’t want just smiles and medals,” said Weir, and wants the focus rather to be on the hard work, training and bravery about the athletes to achieve their goals. Just like it is in the coverage of the professional ones.

“We want more equal balance. Right now, we have great stories about athletes and people often say the thought of how that athlete finally got to compete made them cry,” said Weir and underlined the need to take a step forward in media coverage; from human stories to real sport ones.

“What we want to hear is rather about the athlete that slammed down the basket where everybody on the stand was on the edge of their seat. Those are the types of sport stories I want to see about our athletes when I pick up the paper, who will help build positive attitudes about our population,” said Weir but around 4.5 million athlete with intellectual disabilities are served by the Special Olympics.

At the AIPS congress in Baku two years ago, the association formed a partnership with the Special Olympics and according to Weir, it has been vital for the organization - especially regarding media registration.

Also, there is interest in taking this partnership even further - for example by hosting Young Reporters program at the Special Olympics; a program that has been successful with AIPS and their partner organizations over the years.

“What we would need from a Young Reporters program is a help to move forward in sports reporting. We are definitely interested in making that a reality and we need to see how it’s going to work for our next World Games,” said Weir. But there would be a groundwork to be done before a program like that could happen.

“We would need to educate the reporters. We have athletes that are competing at the top of their game and we have athletes that their biggest triumph is just getting up and move a bar across the

floor. We celebrate all athletes on all levels, and our athletes are some of the best overall I have seen in my life. We don’t want any pity, they don’t pity themselves and we don’t want any media to pity them,” said Weir.

Next up is the 2017 World Winter Games in Austria, where around 3.000 athletes will come together. The hope is that the coverage will be even greater than before and the stories written will be more focused on the sport itself; about the achievements, the athlete’s background and how they got there. Possibly, written by Young Reporters.

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