Growth of Pacific Games barrier to Special Olympics' inclusion

The growing size of the Pacific Games is preventing Special Olympics sports' inclusion in the Games' charter, according to the President of the body that oversees the region's biggest sporting event.

Samoa was one of the few countries to not have Special Olympians competing during this month's Games, with the exception of sailing. Disability advocacy groups said the absence of participation reflected the fact that the events were not included in the Games' charter. 

But the Pacific Games Council President, Vidya Lakhan, said the growing size of the region’s biggest sporting event was holding up any expansion of the charter and of great concern to the council. 

“At the present time the bus is full and for someone to get on to the bus someone will have to get off first,” Mr. Lakhan said. 

“I am sure our Sports Committee would consider [these matters].” 

Mr. Lakhan said the Council performs a regular review of its operations, which includes reviewing the sports programs and the size of the Games. 

Last week, the C.E.O. of Loto Taumafai, Leta’a Daniel Devoe, told the Samoa Observer that Samoa’s Special Olympics athletes did not compete because of the lack of time and the absence of Special Olympic sports in the Games Charter. 

The Pacific Games Council Charter only includes Paralympic sports events and not Special Olympics sports. 

Para sports, or adaptive sports, are distinct from Special Olympics sports. 

The Special Olympics is for athletes with intellectual disabilities. Paralympic events include any one or a combination of athletes with six main categories of disability:  spinal injuries, amputee, cerebral palsy, visual impairment and intellectual impairment.

Leta'a said their whole objective now is to push for inclusiveness in the Pacific Games and showcasing the abilities of the Special Olympic athletes in a separate level of competition that is still part of the Games.

"What we would like to see happen is that we would be included in the Opening Ceremony and have our own separate events during the games," he said. 

"Medals may not be necessarily included in the medal tally for the Pacific Games. 

"But we will have our own medal tally and we will have our own competition, and we would like to be involved in the Closing Ceremony: inclusion is very important."

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