Special Olympics Graduation at Parliament

Disability Issues
Thursday, October 13, 2016

I am delighted today to celebrate the success of the athletes who have completed the training programme as ambassadors for Special Olympics New Zealand.

I extend my personal congratulations to all the athletes who are now experienced ambassadors for the Special Olympics movement. You must be very excited, proud of your achievements, and ready to take on your next challenge. It goes without saying that your achievements will inspire others to follow in your footsteps.

I know that a key focus of the Special Olympics movement is the empowerment of athletes with intellectual disability through sport, health, friendship and leadership. We all know that New Zealand is a great sporting nation. Sport is a great way of bringing people together and building confidence and resilience.

Disabled New Zealanders have also been telling the Government that they want to be empowered to make their own choices and exercise control over their everyday lives.

As most of you will know, this year the Government has undertaken a revision of the New Zealand Disability Strategy. This has involved two rounds of public consultation over the past few months. It is not surprising that one of the key messages that came from disabled people, their families, whānau and carers was that they wanted the freedom to make their own choices and be in control of their own lives. This feedback was included in the draft Strategy and I am looking forward to the launch of the final version later in the year.

I know that another key objective of the Special Olympics movement is building the leadership capability of athletes through the Leadership Programme. This was also a key message made by disabled people during the public consultations on the revision of the New Zealand Disability Strategy. Disabled people want to be the leaders who bring about an inclusive society where everyone can achieve their aspirations.

Every day, dedicated Special Olympics volunteers across communities in New Zealand work tirelessly to empower people with an intellectual disability to be confident, independent and live the life they choose. I applaud all those wonderful people who give hours of their time, energy and skills volunteering to make a positive difference to the lives of others.

What is truly amazing and inspiring about Special Olympics New Zealand is the scale of the volunteering. The organisation is run by over 3,500 volunteers in more than 44 towns and cities, offering year-round sports training and competition in 13 sports and reaching  more than 7,000 athletes with an intellectual disability.  

We know that many organisations rely on help from volunteers to undertake the great work that they do in communities throughout New Zealand. In fact, New Zealand is a world-leader in volunteering. The 2013 Disability Survey tells us that in the last four weeks prior to the Survey 34-36 percent of New Zealanders, both disabled and non-disabled, volunteered their time.

Thank you again for the opportunity to attend this celebration in honour of the athletes who are now Global Messengers for Special Olympics New Zealand.

Congratulations once again to the athletes. I wish you all the very best for a positive, fulfilling and successful future.