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Embracing inclusivity and competition at inaugural Special Olympics Invitational Games in Malta

The Malta contingent during Saturday's opening ceremony. Photo: Matthew Mirabelli

With the 2022 edition of the Special Olympics Invitational Games opening in Malta for the first time ever, CEO of GSD Marketing Ltd, Maria Micallef, highlights the significance of this global event within the Maltese context, the dedicated Maltese community that has made it possible and the support of the Coca-Cola company…

Dating back to the early 1960s, the Special Olympics started as the brainchild of one brave woman – Eunice Kennedy Shriver.

Eunice had enough of the discrimination against people with intellectual disabilities and set out to challenge the injustice by holding an annual summer camp in her own backyard. This gradually evolved into the international Special Olympics event we know today.

While the logistics and reach of the event have changed over time, its mission remains the same: to focus on what these unfairly treated young people could do well, rather than on what they couldn’t.

Today, the Special Olympics make up the world’s largest inclusive sports organisation – a global movement that welcomes everyone, regardless of their abilities and disabilities.

Year-round athletic training across a variety of Olympic-style sports gives young people the opportunity to develop their skills and fitness, challenge their boundaries, become part of a supportive community, and enjoy themselves in the process – vastly boosting their confidence.

As such, the Invitational Games are not only important for their competitive element, which ultimately encourages participants to compete with themselves so they can perform at their best, but also demonstrates the principles of tolerance and diversity on the world stage.

The essence of such an event goes beyond whether or not one wins, as it serves to establish a generation of young people who are positive about themselves and their sport, and who do not let their disability limit what they can achieve, or stop them from trying.

GSD Marketing Ltd CEO Maria Micallef

As a firm believer in creating a more inclusive culture of empowered individuals who feel valued just as they are, I am thrilled that our company is part of this worthy cause, which continues to give thousands of people the opportunity to be actively involved in any aspect of society that interests them.

During these Games, Malta is – for the first time ever – hosting nearly 1,000 athletes from 25 countries who have travelled to take part in this very special event on the international social calendar, marking an important moment in Malta’s history.

As a founding partner and global sponsor of the Special Olympics, The Coca-Cola Company (TCCC) has been at the forefront of the movement to celebrate the limitless potential of individuals with intellectual disabilities, as well as the power of sport to bring people together and transform lives.

This longstanding partnership is grounded in the shared values of optimism and universal acceptance, which the Special Olympics and Coca-Cola have brought to communities across the world over the last five decades.

GSD Marketing Ltd has been the licensed bottler of TCCC in Malta for the last 52 years. As soon as we received the news that the Invitational Games were to take place locally, we set to work to lend our full support to the Malta Special Olympics Committee.

We immediately talked to our colleagues in TCCC who were keen to support with a direct financial contribution towards the Games.

On the local level the bottler will be the sole beverage supplier for the athletes and delegations throughout the entire games. More so our employees have volunteered to help in this event prior and during the Games.

It makes me immensely proud to see how many people will be touched by the involvement of our company. It is encouraging to know that these events will help tremendously to improve empowerment of the participants who will be using their abilities to improve their potential.

I myself was fortunate enough to be invited to the Special Olympics World Games held in Abu Dhabi in 2019 – an event that left a positive lasting impression, and this is why I strongly believe in supporting the local stakeholders to ensure that the Malta event will be equally successful.

In spite of all the hard work that went into the international collaboration between different stakeholders, the enthusiasm of everyone involved has made it all worth it. It is a privilege for us to be a part of this important event in Malta’s chronicle.

With the Games finally upon us, I strongly urge the public to attend and hope to see a good number of people on the stands, cheering on our inspiring athletes.

The Special Olympics Organisation team work very hard on our island so it is important that as a local community we support them in various ways in order that they can keep fulfilling their mission of creating a better world that thrives on equality, joy and better fitness.

Over the years, I have seen work colleagues and friends exhibit different strengths and weaknesses, abilities and disabilities. I have also witnessed some of the most inspiring, courageous acts by people with so-called disabilities.

Fireworks explode during the opening ceremony of the 2022 Invitational Games in Valletta. Photo: Matthew Mirabelli

This has strengthened my conviction to provide an inclusive workplace at GSD Marketing where people with all kinds of differences and disabilities feel welcome and valued for their contributions.

While I encourage everyone to do more to promote the inclusion of, and support to, people with disabilities, let us also make sure that they have the opportunity to use their respective strengths and abilities to not only excel at what they do, but also help and inspire others.

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