Minnikhanov on Special Olympics: ‘It is not only to show how great we are but to leave a legacy’

Gaidar Forum in Moscow became a site to discuss the upcoming Winter Special Olympics in Kazan and problems of inclusive society

Minnikhanov on Special Olympics: ‘It is not only to show how great we are but to leave a legacy’
Photo: Mikhail Tereshchenko/TASS

The Special Olympics will take place in Russia from 22 to 28 January 2022. It will gather around 2,000 athletes from 108 countries of the world in Kazan who will be supported by 3,000 volunteers. While in early February, the capital of the republic will host preliminary games of the World Winter Special Olympics. It was explained what the new phrase Special Olympics meant, why it will take place precisely in Tatarstan and the importance of the Special Olympics in a movement that develops inclusive society in Russia at the next discussion with experts at Gaidar Forum. Russian Sports Minister Oleg Matytsin, head of Coca-Cola HBC Russia Aleksandar Ružević and President of Special Olympics Russia movement Olga Slutsker.

To leave legacy

The special Olympic movement appeared in the USA in the late 50s of the past century on President John Kennedy’s sister Eunice Kennedy Shriver’s initiative, while the first international sports competitions for people with mental disabilities took place in 1968. More than 3 million people from 8 years from 180 countries of the world have participated in the special Olympic movement since then.

Russia also joined the Special Olympics 20 years ago but it has never hosted the Games. Kazan was chosen as host city of the sports competitions among people with intellectual disabilities. As it was noted during a discussion at Gaidar Forum, the capital of Tatarstan was chosen due to a number of objective factors. Firstly, Kazan has huge experience of organising and hosting large international competitions at a high level — it is not only the FIFA World Cup but also WorldSkills, FINA World Championships and others. As Tatarstan President Rustam Minnikhanov noted, “the sports and transport infrastructure, hospitality allow performing the tasks we will have to complete next year. It is a big responsibility and a great honour for the republic”.

Competitions in eight sports — snowboard, floorball, ski races, figure skating, alpine skiing, short track and snowshoe running — will be held in five sports venues of Tatarstan, Minnikhanov said. An organising committee of the Special Olympics has already been created. But it is necessary to create an analogous organising committee at federal level to quickly solve all problems when it comes to the organisation of the world competition — Minnikhanov addressed Russia’s Sports Minister Oleg Matytsun during his speech.

The Special Olympics was discussed during an expert discussion at Gaidar Forum on 18 January. Photo: Mikhail Tereshchenko/TASS

As head of the republic thinks, such competitions aim not at a sports result but an adaptation of special people to live in society, “an opportunity to show their capabilities are at times even better and greater than those of ordinary athletes, it is a very good experience”. Rustam Minnikhanov noted that quite a lot of attention was paid to the adaptation of disabled people, creation of an inclusive society in the republic: Tatarstan has 6,700 facilities and around 2,000 sports venues that are adapted to disabled people’s needs.

The president expressed his confidence that the Special Olympics would give the country a serious impetus that was received after WorldSkills: “This is why I can assure you that this issue is important for the country, and we will do our best to make it the best Winter Special Olympics that will take place in our country”.

“We must host the Special Olympics at such a level that it would be hard to achieve in another place. We can do it. But it is not only to show how great we are but to leave a legacy after that — the people, the tradition, the culture. This is the most important thing for us. Any event we have ever hosted has left a huge legacy, and this Olympics should leave a legacy that will work not only for the good of those people who have some issues but for all us.”

Kazan was chosen as host city of the sports competitions among people with intellectual disabilities. Photo: Dmitry Valeyev/ТАSS

Staff issue and example to follow

During the discussion, speakers not only talked about the upcoming Olympics in Kazan but also how the issues of creation of an inclusive society where people with disabilities can live a normal life as equals, without restrictions, segregation and side glances are solved in Russia in general today.

To make sure that disabled people don’t feel they are a separate category — Russia’s Ministry of Sport is performing such a task today. As head of the ministry Oleg Matytsin noted, more than 250,000 athletes do sport in the country within Special Olympics movement, they participated in nearly 5,000 competitions in 2019. Matytsin also thinks that it is necessary today to bring children up showing examples of people with disabilities, how they overcome difficulties achieving great results and success.

As head of the ministry Oleg Matytsin noted, more than 250,000 athletes do sport in the country within Special Olympics movement. Photo: Mikhail Tereshchenko/TASS

However, deliberately trained coaches, even teachers who know how to deal with people with mental disabilities, have a set of teaching methods are necessary for special athletes too. Today the staff in Russia is one of the hot-button issues. But the Volga sports academy should play a role in the future, Rustam Minnikhanov stressed. According to the Russian Sports Ministry’s decision, a faculty to train such coaches and PE teachers opened there.

“They are very happy because they can fulfil themselves!”

Unfortunately, at the moment mainly foreign foundations provide big support to develop inclusive society, especially to include people with intellectual disabilities to the ordinary life in Russia. For instance, a special programme of famous Greek billionaire Stavros Niarchos united athletes from 6 regions of the country, including Tatarstan. Last year, almost 250 sports unified teams were created where disabled people compete with their teammates without disabilities, President of the Special Olympics in Russia Olga Slutsker said during the forum.

Last year, almost 250 sports unified teams were created where disabled people compete with their teammates without disabilities, President of the Special Olympics in Russia Olga Slutsker said. Photo: Mikhail Tereshchenko/TASS

However, Russian businesses are gradually starting to help to solve problems of creation of inclusive society — talks are held with Vladimir Potanin’s foundation to organise sports unified teams but in 15 regions of Russia, Olga Slutsker added.

“Children with disabilities who do sport are the most successful in the family: they go to competitions, win, get cups and medals, they are very happy because they can fulfil themselves!”

By Angelina Panchenko
Tatarstan