If you were to walk down the sandy shores of Brazil last November, you would have witnessed a celebration. The Special Olympics Beach Games, a new games model that takes place by the seaside, was held on Santos Beach in São Paulo, Brazil’s largest city. Along with 130 Lions and 30 Leos, more than 320 Special Olympics athletes competed for the gold.
Celebrating both differences and similarities, the Beach Games are a part of Special Olympics’ Unified Sports program. Unified Sports promotes inclusion through team sports worldwide. The competition includes players both with and without intellectual disabilities. Through playing together and competing, athletes of different backgrounds begin to better understand one another.
The Beach Games began with a stirring opening ceremony. The delegations marched, officials from Special Olympics Brazil, Lions and local authorities gave inspirational speeches and, of course, athletes did a torch run. Competitors and referees then took an oath, and the crowds enjoyed lively music and cultural performances. The flags of Special Olympics International and Lions Clubs International (LCI) waved proudly in the center of it all.
Over a span of three days, athletes took over the beach, competing in bocce, beach soccer, swimming, beach volleyball and other sports. Lions and Leos were partnered with Special Olympics athletes in every sport. Other Leos volunteered at the Beach Games.
Helping athletes stay hydrated, Leo Pedro Almeida da Silva of Itanhaém Praia, Brazil, enjoyed watching the proud athletes. “The best thing of this tournament was to see athletes of different levels of ability competing,” says Almeida da Silva. “It was fantastic to see how proud they were when they received the medals.”
The best thing of this tournament was to see athletes of different levels of ability competing.
Created by Lions Kester Edwards and Christian Guiralt, members of the Special Olympics International team, the Beach Games in Brazil proved to be a great success. Now being developed in regions around the world, the Games are expected to be part of Mission: Inclusion. A facet of the Special Olympics International–Lions Clubs International partnership, Mission: Inclusion promotes inclusion through sports and service. Some of the other sports that may be included in future events are paddle boarding, kayaking, sailing and triathlon. The sports offered will depend on the region in which the Beach Games take place. In some cases, a region’s popular sport may be adapted for the beach.
Keep your eyes open for future Beach Games in your area. LCI and Special Olympics International have a strong partnership that is creating positive change for those with intellectual disabilities, and it is only getting stronger.