An expert discussion on expanding inclusive sport and tackling the problem of social isolation of individuals with special needs took place at the St. Petersburg International Economic Forum on 3 June. The session was initiated by Coca-Cola Russia, a founding partner and global sponsor of Special Olympics.
In 2022, Kazan will be hosting the Special Olympics World Winter Games. The participants discussed the way the largest humanitarian event, which Russia is hosting for the first time, will affect the development of an inclusive society, whether it is possible to develop the economy and business based on social projects, and why the legacy of the Special Olympics is important for the Russian society.
The discussion was attended by the President and Managing Director of Special Olympics Eurasia David Evangelista, First Deputy Minister of Labor and Social Protection of the Russian Federation Alexey Vovchenko, President of Special Olympics Russia Olga Sloutsker, founder of the Naked Heart Foundation Natalia Vodianova, Vice President of the European Division and General Manager of Coca-Cola Russia and Belarus Andy Buckingham, and Director General of the Directorate for Sports and Social Projects Maksim Denisov. Ksenia Solovieva, editor-in-chief of Vogue Russia and ambassador of the Special Olympics World Winter Games Kazan 2022, moderated the session.
Our country has never hosted international competitions for people with intellectual disabilities of this scale before. The Special Olympics World Winter Games Kazan 2022 are designed to help people with intellectual disabilities adapt to social life and become fully-fledged members of the society. David Evangelista, Managing Director of Special Olympics Eurasia, covered an issue on how the World Games can become the foundation for building a united, tolerant world, how they can serve as a springboard to the formation of an inclusive culture, social justice and raising general awareness of the Russian society. David also expressed confidence that the Games in Kazan will stimulate people with ID to form an active life position and help them adapt to an independent life and work on par with everyone else. For the authorities, the Games will become an incentive to support, perhaps, one of the most vulnerable groups of the population, on an ongoing basis.
Olga Sloutsker, President of the Special Olympics movement in Russia, noted that Special Olympics and the Special Olympics World Games help athletes with ID find their place in society, and the community to accept special people, to be imbued with respect for them and their families. She emphasized that the Russian Special Olympics movement is one of the largest in the world, every year 128,000 Russian athletes with ID take part in more than 5,000 various events at the federal, regional and municipal levels. The movement’s main goal is to create an open, inclusive world, uniting people with and without disabilities in a society of equal opportunities and mutual respect with the help of sports.
The speakers also touched upon the issues of employment of people with ID, discussed the problems that exist in Russia in this area, both in terms of legislation and business.
Natalia Vodianova, founder of the Naked Heart Foundation, “I had and still have a dream that my sister, who was born with special needs, would have the same rights as other people. More than 800,000 people of working age living in Russia have autistic spectrum disorders. International experience shows that special needs individuals can work in almost any field: from restaurant business to data analysis. Today, we are developing programs for accompanying special needs individuals in their workplace and are planning to deliver useful recommendations both for people with ID and for employers”.
Alexey Vovchenko, First Deputy Minister of Labor and Social Protection of the Russian Federation, “Thanks to Special Olympics and the upcoming World Winter Games in Kazan, we have discovered the concept of legacy in a new way. We see the legacy not in the sports infrastructure, but in massively attracting attention to people with ID and to the improvement of their life quality. I hope that the Games in Kazan will help us understand which changes need to be introduced to the legislation so that people with disabilities can be fully employed, so that supported employment is feasible throughout the country”.
“Undoubtedly, during the Special Olympics World Winter Games 2022, Tatarstan will be able to demonstrate the unique hospitality inherent in the region to all athletes and guests of the event. This event will help show the world the beauty of Kazan once again and spread the values of the Special Olympics in Russia,” empasized Andy Buckingham, Vice President of Europe and General Manager of Coca-Cola in Russia and Belarus.
Maksim Denisov, Director General of the ANO “Directorate for Sports and Social Projects”, told about the preparation progress for the Games in Kazan. He thanked Special Olympics International and Special Olympics Russia for the opportunity to host the Games in the Republic of Tatarstan, and founding partner and Special Olympics global sponsor, Coca-Cola, for initiating the session.
The Special Olympics World Winter Games will be held in Kazan on January 22-28, 2022. The Games sports program will comprise competitions in seven sports: alpine skiing, snowboarding, floorball, cross country skiing, figure skating, short track speed skating, and snowshoeing. The event will bring together over 1,900 athletes with intellectual disabilities and Unified Partners from 100 countries.
About Special Olympics
Founded in 1968, Special Olympics is a global movement to end discrimination against people with intellectual disabilities. We foster acceptance of all people through the power of sport and programming in education, health, and leadership. With more than six million athletes and Unified Sports partners in over 190 countries and territories and more than one million coaches and volunteers, Special Olympics delivers more than 30 Olympic-type sports and over 100,000 games and competitions every year.
Special Olympics Russia was founded in 1999 and is one of the largest national programs in the global Special Olympics movement counting for around 130,000 athletes who take part in sports competitions across Russia. About 5,000 physical culture events of the municipal, regional and all Russian levels are held annually under the Special Olympics program. Currently there are branches in 62 regions of Russia. One of the key goals of the World Winter Games is to make the number of participants with ID grow to 200,000 by 2025.