Special Olympics Outdo U.N.: Shriver


OSAKA — Mentally retarded athletes are successfully crossing international barriers where many politicians fail, says former U.S. vice presidential candidate Sargent Shriver.

Shriver, president of the Special Olympics international organization that hosts mentally retarded people in Olympic-style games, said the athletes are often more effective than governmental bodies in cooperating peacefully.

“It does bring people together better than any other enterprise on the face of the globe,” he said in a recent interview with the Japan Times.

He added that Special Olympics athletes are even more effective than the international representatives at the United Nations, “where all they do is argue once they get there.”

He cited instances when enemies in such areas as Northern and Southern Ireland and Nicaragua/El Salvador have put aside their differences to join together in the Special Olympics.

“The truth is, all we did was provide the occasion and the results came about,” he said. “The mentally retarded have the ability to bring about results.”

Shriver was in town this week on private business that included discussions with local officials about Japan’s Fifth Annual Special Olympics to be held at Nagai Stadium [in Osaka] in October.

He estimates that about 4,000 mentally retarded athletes will join in the national games.

Shriver, 71, said he never would have guessed that a summer camp for mentally retarded children held in his own backyard years ago would evolve to international proportions.

“I don’t believe anybody could ever have thought in 1968 that this sport would be in 70 countries and in fact growing in numbers of people,” he said. There are more one million mentally retarded athletes ranging in age from 10 to 80 years old who participate in the Special Olympics, according to Shriver.

He became president of the organization in 1984. In 1972, he was the Democratic Party’s candidate for vice president of the United States.

As in real Olympic Games, mentally retarded athletes in the Special Olympics compete in a variety of sports, including swimming and track and field. They compete in “heats” with others of the same level of ability, and the winners are honored with medals.

But unlike the real Olympics, says Shriver, even losers in the Special Olympics are recognized.

“It’s a world of winners,” he said. “(Mentally retarded athletes) don’t seem to be as angry as we are when we lose. You don’t see that in ordinary people.”

Shriver was hard pressed to explain what he calls the “magic” that the Special Olympics has on its many volunteers and spectators.

“There seems to be some kind of magical effect on ‘normal’ people” who watch the events.

‘‘They become different themselves. They become changed. I’ve been struggling to find the answer…”

Shriver was preparing this week for his journey to Shenzhen, China, where that country’s first Special Olympics are being held March 27-29.

He said Japan is among the many countries that will have athletes joining next summer’s International Special Olympics Games to be held at Notre Dame University, South Bend, Indiana.