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Special Olympics Hellas: 33 Years of Sports Inclusion for People of All Abilities

For 33 years since the founding of Special Olympics Hellas, thousands of athletes with intellectual disabilities, along with numerous volunteers and their coaches, have been striving to contribute to a society of equal opportunities, acceptance, respect, and solidarity.

Despite the global pandemic, Special Olympics Hellas continue their work tirelessly. Through sports, they create a framework of security and development for people with intellectual disabilities, while cultivating a spirit of acceptance and coexistence among tyoung people. 

The Stavros Niarchos Foundation (SNF) is a proud supporter of both Special Olympics Hellas and Special Olympics International, in the context of the global social inclusion movement. SNF’s collaboration with Special Olympics is a natural extension of the philosophy and ethos that guide the Foundation’s philanthropic work. Through our work, we try to contribute, to the best of our ability, toward the achievement of a more just society, a society characterized by inclusion, respect, acceptance, and understanding. Partnering with Special Olympics, we seek to help create opportunities through sports for social inclusion and integration for athletes and their families.

In Greece, SNF supports the organization’s Development Program, as well as the “Play Unified. Learn Unified” school program. The three-year Development Program provides for the creation of new sports programs in 21 target cities, across the 13 regions of Greece. To date, 12 sports programs and 37 coaching programs have been developed in collaboration with 72 special schools in Syros, Kos, Kastoria, Lefkada, Arta, Kalamata, Skiathos, and Kalymnos. Next stops: Trikala and Ioannina.

The school-based “Play Unified. Learn Unified” is an innovative educational and experiential program that enables people of all abilities to participate in sports activities together. To date, 105 schools across Greece have joined, with approximately 4,000 students and athletes of all abilities taking part in more than 175 competitions, with the support of 500 teachers and 230 coaches. More than 10,000 students have taken part in social integration activities as part of “Play Unified. Learn Unified.”

Faced with unprecedented challenges due to the pandemic and public health measures, Special Olympics Hellas has responded with creativity and force of will. From March 2020 through today, they have stayed in contact with athletes and have managed to keep athletes motivated, active, and energized. A total of 18 races and sports activities have been held, with around 330 athletes participating in person or virtually, along with more than 10 online seminars.