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Special Olympics New Zealand wants lifelong equality for Kiwis with intellectual disabilities

Special Olympics New Zealand (SONZ) has launched a new campaign calling for help to reach out to every New Zealander with an intellectual disability who has ever been told, “You’ll never be able to do that…” 

Special Olympics New Zealand offers sports training and competition for people with an intellectual disability. With 44 grassroots clubs and 1,587 volunteers, they currently support 5,199 athletes of all ages across the country.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, Special Olympics New Zealand has had to adapt the way it usually operates, putting a pause on all training and events until it’s safe to return to group activities. 

Throughout this time, we have continued to reach out and support athletes. Some of the methods used include producing workout videos, holding live quizzes, meeting up over Zoom, and encouraging athletes to take over our social media accounts.

With major cuts to Class 4 funding, COVID-19 has also heavily impacted Special Olympics New Zealand’s funding.

So, while we are now gearing up to get all athletes back to training and competitions, we are also working on securing new funding sources. This includes a need to increase donations and acquire corporate sponsorship. 

Change the Narrative. Change Lives.

Special Olympics New Zealand’s new campaign highlights the negative messages people with an intellectual disability hear every day. These messages include, “You’ll never be able to make friends,” “You won’t be able to hold down a job,” and “You’ll never be able to move out of home.”

These phrases have come out of conversations with the athletes themselves — they are things athletes have either been told directly or been made to feel due to a lack of provision for them in mainstream sport.

“We’re a grassroots community organisation, with clubs reaching right across New Zealand. This gives us the unique potential to reach out to every Kiwi with an intellectual disability and give them an opportunity to take part in sport. Perhaps most importantly, we can pull them out of the isolation that is so often a part of their everyday lives.”
— Carolyn Young, CEO, Special Olympics New Zealand

Before joining a Special Olympics club, many athletes won’t have had the opportunity to play sport, socialise or build friendships.

Special Olympics New Zealand’s programmes are tailored specifically to Kiwis with an intellectual disability. This means they get the opportunity to take part in sport, just like everyone else. 

Those who are a part of Special Olympics frequently report amazing transformations in the athletes. 

And this is backed up with research.

Athletes who join Special Olympics show improvements in their physical competence, social acceptance, and general self-worth.

The positive impacts of being a Special Olympics athlete filter into all areas of peoples’ lives. Special Olympics New Zealand athletes go on to get jobs, move out of home and become leaders in their communities.

What’s more, research also shows independence in people with intellectual disabilities provides protection from loneliness — the negative effects of which, all Kiwis have become acutely aware of during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Sarah Dalton — Special Olympics New Zealand Equestrian Athlete, Athlete Leader, and Kindness Superstar

Sarah Dalton is a Special Olympics athlete. Sarah has CHARGE Syndrome. CHARGE Syndrome causes a loss of hearing, vision and smell, affects multiple organs in the body, and leads to developmental delays, resulting in Sarah also having an intellectual disability.

Special Olympics New Zealand has been an integral part of Sarah’s life for the past 10 years. Being a Special Olympics equestrian athlete has direct benefits on Sarah’s physical health: it acts as respiratory physiotherapy to improve her breathing. It also has a beneficial impact on her social life! 

In this video, Sarah focuses on the impact Special Olympics New Zealand has had on her ability to carve her own path and do something that should be a right for everybody: make friends.

Special Olympics New Zealand is calling for lifelong equality and opportunities for everyone. 

Everyone should have the chance to take part in sport and benefit not only from being able to keep fit, but also from the camaraderie and confidence that comes from belonging to a team. 

Special Olympics athletes

Special Olympics New Zealand clubs welcome Kiwis aged 8 and above with an intellectual disability to join as an athlete. Special Olympics New Zealand offers 13 sports and over 200 events for athletes to participate in every year.

The Young Athletes Programme is a programme developed by Special Olympics International targeting children aged between 2 – 7 years old. The programme introduces fundamental movement and basic sports skills, like running, kicking, and throwing.

Special Olympics New Zealand is keen to raise more funding to enable a continuation of planned sports training and competition, and enable a nationwide roll-out of the Young Athletes programme following the successful pilot programme at the end of 2019.


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