Are the Special Olympics so special that they cannot even be shown here in the UK?

On the 25th of July, there was a remarkable ceremony in Los Angeles, celebrating the opening of the second largest event to happen in the city since it last hosted the Summer Olympics. The First Lady, Michelle Obama, was in attendance too, and she officially opened the event. There were 6,500 athletes representing 165 countries present in L.A, and 500,000 spectators were watching them. And get this: barely anyone in the UK even knows about it.

This event was the Special Olympics World Games. It first began in 1968 and is now one of the biggest events in the world. This is an event for athletes with intellectual disabilities, allowing them to compete against each other on the same level as everyone else. It’s a wonderful idea for an event, and it’s been covered by ESPN out in America. But the UK, despite sending a team, has no coverage on ESPN or any television network for that matter. The only coverage from a major broadcaster in the UK that I’ve found are a few text articles hidden away on BBC Sport. Online. Where few people have found them. And if you search Special Olympics online, the top result is an article about reliving the 2012 Paralympics.

Consider for a few moments that Channel 4 broadcast over 400 hours worth of coverage from the London Paralympics three years ago. Sir Philip Craven spoke about Channel 4’s achievements with broadcasting the Paralympics, and said: ‘They reached record audiences, in particular young people, identified and developed some fantastic new presenting talent and played a significant role in delivering seismic shifts in attitudes and perceptions towards people with an impairment in the UK’.

Great. So the Paralympics get award-winning coverage in the UK, but an event that’s also got a focus on those who are impaired and playing sport gets not even a minute of coverage whatsoever? Nice message you’re sending to the intellectually impaired, UK.

So why is there this imbalance? Why do the Paralympics get way more coverage than the Special Olympics?

Was it that Great Britain didn’t do too well at the Los Angeles games? Clearly not: the GB team won 68 gold, 69 silver and 42 bronze medals, making them one of the most successful teams in the Games.

What was it then? A quick search for ‘Special Olympics coverage UK’ online comes up with just two articles from the BBC, as previously mentioned: one before the Games, and one after.

This worries me. As someone who has known people who deal with severe intellectual disabilities, it’s saddening to see that broadcasters take no interest in it here. We just faced the news that Discovery had acquired the rights to broadcast the Olympics, therefore taking them from the BBC here in the UK from 2022 onwards, for €1.3 billion, which is roughly £920 million.

The Olympics is the the place where the best of the best assemble. The Paralympics are no small deal either, and the Special Olympics needed to be broadcast to help raise awareness; sadly, for some inexplicable reason this wasn’t to be this time round.

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