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Special Olympics – a different way to win

This week represents an important time of year for Special Olympics Ireland as they run their annual fundraising events around the country. Special Olympics Ireland currently has over 9,000 athletes competing in 15 different disciplines across 360 different clubs and groups all over the island of Ireland. Their volunteer base is 25,000 people strong. It represents one of the most remarkable social movements in Ireland according to Kevin Hargaden, social justice theologian with the Jesuit Centre for Faith and Justice (JCFJ).

Writing in the international journal, Journal of Disability and Religion, Kevin considers the way in which contemporary capitalism conceives of success – focused on measurement and comparison – in a way that marginalises many, especially those with disabilities. In the face of such brutal competition, the attitudes and practices of competitors in Special Olympics events show us a different way to imagine what it means to be a victor.

In a fashion that echoes his work in the JCFJ, Kevin posits that our understanding of the individual and wider society is shaped by who we place in the centre. “When young, healthy, able bodies, equipped with resources, education, and social connections are considered the default human, assumptions can be made that lead to devastating inequalities. Yet when Christians – informed by the person of Jesus – place the person with disabilities at the centre of how we think of our shared life, new possibilities and opportunities arise. The Special Olympic movement thus stands as a prophetic expression of truth in a culture that is all too often obsessed with fitness, efficiency, and competence.”

Kevin’s article, entitled “Calling for a Time-Out: The Theology of Disability Sport and The Broader Understanding of Competition” can be accessed for free for a limited time period at the Taylor and Francis website. Special Olympic collection stations can be found in every county in Ireland over the coming days.