Speech at the Special Olympics Europe-Eurasia Conference

Luxembourg City, Luxembourg | September 25, 1997

Not only will Special Olympics Europe-Eurasia be the mechanism by which we continue to reach out to the forgotten and under-served millions, it will serve as a model for future, regional operations around the world, including Africa, Asia-Pacific, The Middle-East, North America, and Latin America!

His Royal Highness
Her Royal Highness
Distinguished Representatives from some 40 Special Olympics and Eurasian Programs;
from Government Ministries across the same large region;
from the European Commission, and
from the International Olympic Committee
Ladies and Gentlemen: --

It is my pleasure to welcome all of you to this unprecedented gathering in Special Olympics history.

It gives me great pride that the Movement we call Special Olympics, which my wife, Eunice, founded almost 30 years ago, is truly "Going Global".

On July 20, 1968, when the Special Olympics "Flame of Hope" was ignited, for the very first time, one thousand two hundred young men and women with mental retardation from 26 States in the USA and from Canada took part in a sports competition organized and managed in the Olympic tradition.

It was a ground-breaking event!!! These were the very first Special Olympics athletes, and it was an unprecedented accomplishment to bring them together. I shall never forget the words spoken on that day by the Mayor of Chicago, Richard J. Daley. That man, the Mayor of Chicago, came to the Opening Ceremonies of those first Special Olympics Games. He stayed for almost an hour and one-half. He watched many of the events from down on the field where the athletes were actually competing. Then he came up into the stands and sat next to my wife. Fortunately for me, I was on the other side of the Mayor. As we three sat watching the Games for two or three minutes none of us said anything. Then suddenly, Mayor Daley turned to my wife and said,: --

"Eunice, the world will never be the same after these Games."

Immediately, I thought the Mayor was being just a political personality, exaggerating what he saw, but encouraging my wife in her new undertaking. Today, however, I believe Mayor Daley was a genuine prophet.

Today the number of Special Olympics athletes participating in the European-Eurasian region alone is 350 times the number of those original Special Olympics athletes. Even I, -- who have the greatest faith in my wife's vision, ability and tenacity - could not have imagined the enormous miracles he created three decades ago. And, my friends, it is a miracle.

A miracle with a truly universal impact: --

In 150 countries around the world -- from the Steppes of Russia to the Streets of New York City -- Special Olympics is reaching out to more than a million athletes and changing their lives forever! And we are not only changing their lives. We are altering their perceptions of themselves and the world view of everyone around them!

To whole populations -- across North America, Latin America, Asia, Africa, Europe -- who for centuries have been told, "You are worthless", You cannot achieve," You are a loser," we are saying, "You are Valued!" "You can Achieve!" "You are Winners".

Part of this miracle lies in the fact that respected leaders from many disparate nations around the world now recognize and hail the life-affirming work of Special Olympics and Special Olympics athletes.

From Pope John Paul II to the Muslim religious leaders of Egypt; from Czech Republic President, Vaclav Havel to Nelson Mandel of South Africa, and countless others, the message resounds that Special Olympics is a success in changing attitudes and preconceptions world-wide.

And it is a great testament to the miracle of Special Olympics that today we are launching a Europe-Eurasia Headquarters office as an historic, exciting, and integral part of the Special Olympics Movement.

In a very concrete and definitive way, the establishment of this office represents the Movement's serious and determined effort to continue to reach out globally.

While Special Olympics currently reaches more than one million athletes, there are 175: million people around the world with mental retardation whom we have not yet touched. Approximately 15 million of them live in Europe-Eurasia.

Every one of these 175 million, -- rich and poor, -- young and old, -- deserve a chance at a more meaningful, fulfilling, and joyful life. Each one of the 175 million deserves Special Olympics.

To give Special Olympics to them is our continuing mission, one in which the Special Olympics Europe-Eurasia office will play an enormous and vital role.

As many of you know, the growth of the Special Olympics Movement in this region has been strong and steady especially over the last five years, with the number of national programs doubling during that time! This means that we are touching more and more people who have not yet had access to the myriad benefits Special Olympics offers.

Not only will Special Olympics Europe-Eurasia be the mechanism by which we continue to reach out to the forgotten and under-served millions, it will serve as a model for future, regional operations around the world, including Africa, Asia-Pacific, The Middle-East, North America, and Latin America!

All of these Regions present daunting challenges but I know -- with the help of the great people and great nations in the Europe-Eurasia Region -- Special Olympics Europe-Eurasia and the Special Olympics Movement will be able not only to meet, but even to exceed all of our present goals!

I would like to conclude with a statement made by a United States Astronaut named Steve Smith. This man, Steve Smith, is also a Special Olympics Volunteer! He carried our Special Olympics flag on his last Mission in Outer Space

Mr. Smith said,: --

"Special Olympics is the one movement that can create world peace."

That sounds like an exaggeration. But he couldn't be more on target: --

Recently when their leaders would not even sit down to talk at the same table, Special Olympics brought Arab and Israeli athletes together in peaceful sports competition which continued for three days!

Special Olympics also brought together law enforcement officers from Ireland and Northern Ireland during war times. They ran alongside one another in a Torch Run event to raise money for all of Ireland.

The former Communist Countries in Eastern Europe are now participating in Special Olympics. We are providing new and hopeful possibilities for all of them!

We are bypassing the barriers of race, gender, religion, and nationality. Together we are creating a new global reality. The Special Olympics Movement is destined to touch the political and spiritual outlook of millions upon millions of our fellow human beings everywhere on earth.

Today, with the launching of our Europe-Eurasia: office, we have taken an historic step closer to fulfilling that destiny.

It is this miracle, that respected leaders from disparate nations around the world now recognize. They hail the life-affirming work of Special Olympics.

In addition to all the thoughts in the official speech I have already distributed to everyone, may I add some almost, extemporaneous, additional comments: --

For the 21st Century, I believe all of us must pledge ourselves to struggle, to the best of our abilities, to eliminate war and aggressive armies. Our 21st Century World, and all human beings in that world, cannot survive another full-scale, armed conflict of continental or world-wide size.

We need alliances based upon the common humanity of all people in all nations.

I speak in these generalities and abstract terms only to make blunt statement of fact: --

"Special Olympics may well be the first union of all people of all races and all creeds and of all economic and political systems joined together, not to gain political or military or economic power, but to serve "the least of our brethern"! To serve all those with mental retardation, and their family members, and friends and volunteers. Human beings with mental retardation also inspire all of us. They bring all of us together to serve especially the weakest, , freely, joyfully and successfully....

Way back in 1983 -- almost 15 years ago, the coach of the Special Olympics athletes from Israel who were competing in our. World-Wide Games was sitting beside me in the stands watching Israeli athletes in action. This coach was a woman, a star athlete who had competed and won Olympic medals in four Olympic Games. Then in 1983 she had become the official leader of Israel's athletes in our Special Olympics Games!

We were sitting next to each other watching our athletes compete. At one point a long silence ensued between us. Then, suddenly, the Israeli coach turned and said to me:

..."Mr. Shriver, you should change the name "Special Olympics'"!!! I objected to that suggestion and explained we were the only athletic movement in the world authorized by the International Olympic Committee to use the word, "Olympics" in our title. No organization had permission to use that famous word legally except 'Special Olympics'.

After a pause I said to her ..."Why should we change? What better name could we possibly have?" She said..."I suggest you call your Games 'The Smiling Olympic'..."

"Why that strange name?", I asked.

To which she responded, -- "Mr. Shriver, I've been a competitor in four Olympic Games. I have won several Olympic medals."! I've also seen additional Olympic Games, and many other World Championship Games. But I have never seen any athletic competitions where all the competitors have been as happy as your runners, swimmers, jumpers, football players in "Special Olympics". All of your athletes and their coaches and friends are happy. Your athletes compete as energetically as any I have ever seen. But, when the race is finished, all of your Special Olympics athletes are happy and ready to compete again if they have the chance to do so. That's unprecedented in the regular Olympics or in other sports events. That's why yours are truly "The Smiling Olympics".

Well, my friends, we will never change our name, Special Olympics. But, let us never forget the words spoken by that Israeli star athlete and coach. Let us always be "The Smiling Olympics." Let us always help and encourage all our athletes. We need to be like them!!! Happy to share what. God has given us. Happy to share what we have with all who have less! Happy to have the chance in the 21st Century to make the entire world joyful and content, content with what each of us has been given, glad to have the chance to create a 21st Century filled with love, not arms or bombs, filled with compassion, not conflict.