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Sports Unites the World

Special Olympics

People with intellectual disabilities who wish to connect to society are greatly helped by playing sports. It offers opportunities to engage with diverse groups of people and helps to broaden their world. people without intellectual disabilities who initially joined the sporting activities to support people with intellectual disabilities also benefitted by sharing and learning from their aspirations and growing together. Unified sports show us the sort of inclusive society that we should all aim to achieve.

Special Olympics promotes “Unified Sports®” in which people with intellectual disabilities play sports with people without intellectual disabilities. A great basketball player Dikembe Mutombo(far right) who is a former National Basketball Association(NBA, a professional league in the USA) athlete participated in a match of “unified basketball” in the B. League game venue.

Suddenly, a great big wall faced him. He was just about to give his best shot in a basketball match, and what looked like a wall was 2 meters 18 cm tall former National Basketball Association player Dikembe Mutombo defending the basket. His first impression of confronting the famous professional player was that he is “amazingly big.” He could even hear Dikembe’s breathing and realized how incredibly fast the legendary athlete can move. It was “Simply so fast! . ”He had never experienced such a sensation and excitement before.
Still, he couldn’t penetrate Dikembe’s tight defense to shoot success-fully. As he recalled the match later for this article, Masatoshi Monto,24, smiled and said “Yet, it was such fun. I feel happy”.
The match that Masatoshi joined is “unified basketball “in which people with intellectual disabilities play with people without intellectual disabilities. Special Olympics offers opportunities for people with intellectual disabilities to participate in sporting activities. One of the area of Special Olympics’ current focuses is “Unified Sports®

Masatoshi massages Dikembe’s shoulder to show his gratitude to the star player who shared the exciting sporting experience. Masatoshi’s natural friendliness instantly shortened the distance between himself and the legendary global athlete.

Friends leaving him at around aged 10

Masatoshi has an intellectual disability. When he was about 10-year-old, he realized and felt that there was a “wall” that separates him and the others. Until that time, he was playing in a friendly way with his classmates, but started to feel a distance between himself and them. He noticed that when they walked past him, they just went by without saying a word. Masatoshi likes meeting people and as he had enjoyed playing with his classmates. He felt isolated. He couldn’t go to school. Even now, the sad feelings-make him shudder when he remembers that period. It was during that time when he encountered Special Olympics basket-ball, in the spring of 2004.

Masatoshi participated in the Summer Tokyo District Competition of Social Olympics Nippon in 2010. He got along proactively with many people.

He didn’t know the rules. He simply chased a ball following his coach s’ instructions. Basketball enabled him once more to meet many people. He found a place where he can be him-self. His friendly and natural smile came back.
People with intellectual disabilities generally require time to understand words and conceptual knowledge. But in sports, they can learn how to play more effectively by moving their bodies and grasping the flow of movements.

Masatoshi admired his father wearing a suit and going to work every day. “I am happy with my childhood dream come true”.

Masatoshi learned a lot. His skills advanced tremendously so as to be able to participate in Unified Sports®. He grew into one of the leaders. In 2013, he joined his first overseas basketball tour.
Masatoshi has been working for a major apartment management company. He found himself buying a bottle of water and handing it out casually every morning to his col-league who has an intellectual disability. He was concerned of the colleague working so hard in hot weather without bothering to drink water. “He is an import-ant and a valuable workmate”, said Masatoshi. It’s natural for him to be compassionate to others.

He and his friend, Ryo Matsuno,25, have been playing basketball together for most of the last 14 years. Whenever Masa-toshi misses a training session, Ryo becomes concerned about“Ma-kun (Masatoshi’s nickname) .” “Ma-kun has been supporting Ryo’s mind and spirit”, said Ryo’s mother, Sonoko.
Ryo has autism spectrum disorder. It’s rather difficult for him to put into words what he wants to express.

Sonoko, smiled and said, “Special Olympics has become my hobby. It’s fun!”

Sonoko hoped Ryo would gain social skills and grow. She searched over and over again for opportunities for Ryo to attend a wide variety of cultural and learning classes with people with intellectual disabilities. But the situation changed after discovering Special Olympics. It had at last “taken a load off my mind”, said Sonoko smiling. She and Masatoshi s’ parents, Seiichiro and Hitomi became qualified coaches for Special Olympics and they spend plenty of time together with the athletes.

10-year-old Ryo who started participating in Special Olympics. Sports enabled him to meet Masatoshi who became his friend for life.

Awakened Challenging Spirit

Visible changes also appeared in Ryo. He learned how to coordinate with other players as he “wanted to pass a ball to Ma-kun.”
Ryo increasingly talks more to Sonoko about how he feels playing the sport. “I’d be delighted if Ma-kun participates in the Special Olympics World Games. But mind you, I will become the next person to participate”. Sonoko feels Ryo is changing. In the past, “when Ryo was spending time with people without intellectual disabilities, he was told by everyone that he’s ‘done enough for now’ and he was not given opportunities to take up challenges”. Ryo’s challenging spirit is now awakened and sprouting up.
Special Olympics originates from one woman’s vision and sense of justice. She was Eunice Kennedy Shriver, a younger sister of a former US President, J.F.Kennedy. It started with a sporting event that she hosted in her backyard. She had an elder sister who had an intellectual disability. There were limited opportunities for people with intellectual disabilities to play sports, and she wished that they could enjoy, play and compete more through sports. With her initiatives, Special Olympics began, and its activities bloomed in the US. After about 30 years, in 1994, Special Olympics Nippon was established in Japan.
The benefits of the Special Olympics activities are shared by every-one. It’s bringing favorable changes to people without intellectual disabilities also.

Congratulating each other with a high five is a symbol of Special Olympics. Doing it with great joy are Masatoshi Monto (left) and Ryo Matsuno(right). They have been playing basketball for 14 years since primary school. At the beginning they didn’t even know the rules but now they take active roles in Unified Sports®.

Yohei Arakawa participates in Unified Sports® but before he joined the activities of Special Olympics, he used to think like that “People without intellectual disabilities are the ones who offer something to people with intellectual disabilities. People with intellectual disabilities can offer nothing to the people without intellectual disabilities.” But, as he took part in the sporting games, he noticed that there are many athletes with strong aspirations and they often show their best abilities when following the coach s’ instructions.
“These are the characteristics and the feelings that I once used to have. I forgot them since I become more skilled in basketball. Now I feel that they are the ones who enable me to remember what state of mind I had at the very beginning”, said Yohei. He now naturally reaches out to people with intellectual disabilities and offers possible assistance.

Yohei Arakawa(left) who participates in unified basketball said, “the athletes’ joy is tied to my joy also”

Arisa Tanabe is a university student learning nursing care. She joined Unified Sports® when she started to work as a nurse, because she thought it would be useful to have the experience of communicating with people with intellectual disabilities. But as she spent more time with the athletes, she realized that her way of thinking has been too much based on the idea of “supporting them”, and she started to change this biased thinking. She points out that after having the experience of “interacting and communicating in sports, they all have individual personalities and you can respect them.”
We do not live in a world of one-way streets where people with intellectual disabilities are one-sidedly “supported”. people without intellectual disabilities can join in the activities and benefit from the opportunities to learn from people with intellectual disabilities. Both can grow and progress in society, and that is the type of inclusive society which we should aim, aspire and work together for.

I am delighted to come and join the training,” said Arisa Tanabe.

Toyota Motor Corporation became a global partner of Special Olympics in 2018. The basketball match described at the beginning of this article was the sports event to mark the signing of the global partnership.
With Special Olympics International Chairman Timothy Shriver and Toyota Motor Corporation President Akio Toyoda present and nearby, a Special Olympics Global Ambassador Dikembe Mutombo said “Sports do not divide the world but unite it. Events like this today have been held in the US for many years. Today is the starting day for Japan. It’s important to start today. Not tomorrow.”

The 2015 Special Olympics World Summer Games was held in Los Angeles, USA. More than 8,500 team members from 164 countries participated. ©Special Olympics Nippon

Participants smile and making a V sign after playing Unified Sports®. Athletes, partners and coaches are united.

About Special Olympics

It is an international sports organization that provides year-round sports training and competition in a variety of Olympic Games-type sports for people with intellectual disabilities. Special Olympics participants are referred to as “athletes.” They regularly join training sessions or competitions so that they become familiar in playing sports. Special Olympics empowers athletes to gain greater self-reliance and encourage more active participation in society.

Special Olympics and Toyota

Toyota Motor Corporation has been a national partner of Special Olympics Nippon since 2016 and became a global partner of Special Olympics International in 2018. One of the focuses of Special Olympics’ global effort is “Unified Sports®. Toyota plans to contribute with the participation of employee volunteers mainly in Japan and the US, and engage various activities to raise the awareness of Social Olympics.

TOYOTA|Special Olympics

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