On the occasion of the Special Olympics World Games, 85 people with mental disabilities, their 35 coaches and their godfather, former Olympic champion Alain Bernard, will represent France in Abu Dhabi from March 14th to 21st.
He willingly admits, the gold medal winner of the 100 freestyle at the 2008 Beijing Games Alain Bernard might not have paid attention to the issue of sport for the mentally handicapped if he had not in his family a cousin with trisomy. The following is a matter of friendship between this great retired man from the basins and Jordan Minglis, 26, a young trisomic swimmer who will be one of the leading figures of the French delegation to the Special Olympics World Games, from March 14 to 21 in Abu Dhabi. . "Jordan is a competitor like me and he is happy in the water. I met him in the pool of Antibes where I was fired myself. Sport is the best way to thrive and face challenges, whether you're disabled or notsaid the swimmer.
China dominates the disabled world
It is also a family history that allowed the Special Olympics movement to see the day in 1968 thanks to Eunice Kennedy, sister of John and Robert, but also Rosemary, eldest daughter of the tribe, intellectual deficience following a missed lobotomy. Launched in Chicago a few weeks after Robert's assassination with less than a hundred participants in an empty stadium, the Special Olympics World Games then dug their own path, parallel to the official Paralympic movement.
A medal for all participants
In some countries, this course has joined that of disabled federations (physical handicap) or adapted (mental and psychic handicap), but in France, it differs from traditional handisports federations on a crucial point: all the athletes involved in the events are rewarded which goes against traditional sportsmanship, based on the culture of results and competition. "We deliver rewards, not titles, it makes a big difference, says Nathalie Dallet-Fèvre. The important thing about us is not to win, but to have given the best of oneself, in his eyes as in the eyes of his relatives. "
The Special Olympics movement thus rejects the principle of selecting the best. Before each meeting (we never use the term "championship" here), events are organized to form level groups that are more or less homogeneous in each discipline. " at from the moment you wear sportswear, shorts, sneakers, you become an athlete », continues Nathalie Dallet-Fevre, relayed by Alain Bernard: "There is no contradiction with traditional handisport, it broadens the spectrum and that's fine. "
If the 120 athletes of the French delegation are mostly disabled, the other originality of the movement is to offer some tests in "unified" form, mixing disabled and valid athletes. Alongside athletics, swimming, judo, table tennis, gymnastics and basketball, traditionally present, the French delegation will participate in three unified events: handball, bowling and football. 5.
Valid and disabled on the same ground
A first in the Middle East
This is the first time a Middle Eastern city has hosted the Special Olympics World Games. They are trying to break into countries where disabled people are poorly funded by public authorities. "We are not a federation, which allows us to apply our own rules, but in return we have no subsidies," continues Nathalie Dallet-Fèvre.
In France, the movement is largely financed by conventional inter-company races (relays made up of employees) whose local authorities choose to entrust the organization to Special Olympics France. Which charges a registration fee to each participating company. These revenues represent three quarters of the budget of the French branch of the movement, which self-finances part of the activities for athletes, the other part being supported by the specialized institutions where they live.
While participation in the games is free for athletes, this is not the case for their family, who had to break the piggy bank to get to Abu Dhabi or use funding pools. Constance Pégard, 21, a young trisomic tennis player from Ile-de-France, will travel with her parents, her brother and her two sisters. "I'm glad they come to see me play, tennis I love it, it amuses me, but beware, I do not like losing," She warns.
200 million potential athletes with disabilities
According to the website of the Special Olympics movement (specialolympics.org), chaired by Tim Shriver, son of Eunice Kennedy-Shriver, mental disability affects 200 million people around the world, including 6 million active in the Special Olympics movement. The three most active geographical areas are: China and Southeast Asia (1.6 million), North America (1 million) and Europe-Eurasia (550,000). 7,000 athletes representing 172 countries will be present at the Abu Dhabi World Summer Games, in 24 disciplines (France is only in 10 of them).