SOSA lights up Nelson Mandela Statue to celebrates 50 years of inclusion

Dr Mathews Phosa ,Chairperson of Special Olympics South Africa

Special Olympics was joined by over 5 million athletes in over 180 countries as we all celebrated the 50th anniversary of our Movement. To mark this major milestone, Special Olympics has asked the world to “Light Up for Inclusion”. Tonight landmarks, stadia and iconic buildings around the world will turn RED in a global act of unity. This is a global demonstration of tolerance, respect and celebration of difference. By lighting up RED for inclusion we are helping to bring urgency and awareness to the plight of people with Intellectual Disabilities around the world. Tonight more than 70 landmarks worldwide will participate in the Light Up for Inclusion initiative. Major global landmarks are being lit up in countries like the United Arab Emirates, Senegal, Zambia, Kenya, Mauritius, Portugal, Gibraltar, Jordan, the United Kingdom, South Korea, Romania, Mexico, Panama, America, Canada, Azerbaijan, Singapore, China, Ireland and of course here in South Africa. This unique event celebrates the incredible legacy of one exceptional woman, Eunice Kennedy Shriver. 50 years ago Eunice decided it was time to take a stand, to make a difference. She is a shining example of what can happen when one person says enough and begins to speak for those that have no voice. Tonight that voice is over 5 million strong. We are also here to celebrate another exceptional individual, former President, Nelson Mandela. It is fitting that as we celebrate 50 years of Special Olympics and the legacy of our founder that we also celebrate Nelson Mandela’s centenary year. For decades, Nelson Mandela worked for equality in South Africa as an anti-apartheid revolutionary. After becoming President of South Africa, he also became a supporter of Special Olympics. Mandela, along with the Nelson Mandela Children’s Foundation, worked with Special Olympics Founder Eunice Kennedy Shriver and Special Olympics to reach out to people with intellectual disabilities in South Africa.

Dr Mathews Phosa ,Chairperson of Special Olympics South Africa with SOSA athletes from Log Wood Village

In 2001, Mandela returned to Robben Island — where he had long been imprisoned — along with Special Olympics athletes from around the world. They lit the Special Olympics Flame of Hope as a symbol to all people with intellectual disabilities that freedom will come their way. Mandela’s resilience has been an inspiration, sending a message of hope for those who have been treated unjustly, those who have been isolated and those who are misunderstood.
Special Olympics has opened so many doors for people with an intellectual disability in the country, giving them an equal opportunity to compete, be recognized for their achievements, experience joy and to form friendships. I have so much pride to have been part of this incredible movement for the past 11 years and to have been at the helm in South Africa. We have achieved so much and have seen our numbers grow to over 50 000 athletes in all 9 provinces. Tonight we celebrate two incredible individuals who have shown us the path to inclusion and acceptance, we celebrate the growth of a movement that is showing the world new ways, new heroes, and new champions.
I think that Madiba said it best: “When you attend a Special Olympics Games…and watch the sheer joy on faces — not just of the athletes, but more overwhelmingly among spectators — you begin to realize there is much more at work than simply athletic competition. On one hand, it is the story of years of tragedy transformed into pure joy, driven by the beauty of sheer effort. But at the same time, it is a profound statement of inclusion — which everybody matters, everybody counts, every life has value, and every person has worth.” I urge you all to follow their example, to take a stand and to say yes to inclusion. I thank each and every one of you for your continued commitment to our athletes and to our movement. Together we can continue to grow the legacy of Nelson Mandela and Eunice Kennedy Shriver. Special Olympics has revealed the champion in all of us!