Delaware athletes were triumphant at last week’s World Games in Abu Dhabi, bringing home silver and bronze medals in two sports. Tennis player Andrew Crout won bronze medals in both the singles and doubles tournaments, and swimmer Patricia Pecora was part of the 4 x 50-meter freestyle relay that won a silver medal. Individually, she won bronze in the 50 free and placed fourth in the 50 back.
Eddie Joyner also represented Delaware the bi-annual games, placing sixth and seventh, respectively, in the singles and doubles bowling competition. All of the athletes returned to Delaware this past weekend after a week of intense competition 7,000 miles from home.
Every two years Special Olympics athletes come together to compete at the World Games, alternating summer and winter sports. This was the largest Special Olympics World Games in history, with an estimated 7,500 athletes from 192 nations competing in 24 Olympic-type sports.
The size and potential vulnerability of this constituency has captured the focus of the Beau Biden Foundation for the Protection of Children. Special Olympics International and the Wilmington-based Foundation recently announced the launch of Operation Safeguard, a new initiative to advance and strengthen the protection of people with intellectual disabilities from physical and sexual abuse.
We caught up with Beau Biden Foundation for the Protection of Children Executive Director Patty Dailey Lewis, who also just returned from the World Games, to ask her more about her trip and this new partnership.
Town Square Delaware: Please tell us how the Beau Biden Foundation will support Special Olympics International.
Dailey Lewis: Operation Safeguard will advance and strengthen the protections and education for people with intellectual differences from physical and sexual abuse through trainings, policies and procedures.
People with intellectual differences are much more likely to be physically and sexually abused. This initiative will enhance awareness of the problem of abuse and implement the best-practice solutions to physical and sexual abuse of all athletes in the Special Olympics International family.
TSD: Some of the most well-known American Olympic gymnasts have come forward to say that abuse is a major problem in the sport. Can you shed light on the scope of the problem of abuse among Special Olympics athletes?
Dailey Lewis: The issues that have occurred in the Olympics have put a spotlight on the crisis of child abuse in sports.
Operation Safeguard is a proactive step to help Special Olympics do what they do well, and take those steps to do it even better for the children and vulnerable adult athletes — ensuring best practices are utilized throughout the organization on local, state, national, and international levels. While there is no known problem within Special Olympics International, this is an opportunity to see where the organization may be vulnerable to predators and take steps to prevent abuse.
TSD: What was your purpose in traveling to Abu Dhabi? Who were you introduced to there? Did you meet any of the staff who will help administer the training?
Dailey Lewis: I was in Abu Dhabi for a few reasons. This experience gave the Beau Biden Foundation the opportunity to observe Special Olympics at their premier international event, and to meet the people who make Special Olympics work — the coaches, the volunteers, the leadership and the athletes.
Through this trip I was also able raise awareness for Operation Safeguard, talk to athletes, coaches, volunteers and families about what Operation Safeguard means to the BBF and SOI.
I also had the opportunity to meet with Special Olympics International Executive Director Mary Davis, among many others in international leadership, and leadership in the USA organizations.
But I think my most favorite meeting was with Special Olympics International Board Member Loretta Claiborne, the “Chief Inspiration Officer.” Loretta, a past recipient of the Arthur Ashe Award, is the subject of the film, “The Loretta Claiborne Story.” Loretta was born partially blind, unable to walk or talk until the age of four years old, yet has become a world class runner, completing over 25 marathons and has placed in the top 100 finishers of the Boston Marathon two times. She just could not have been more excited for this partnership and for what our organizations can do together to protect children. I was overwhelmed by her concern for athletes around the globe.
I was truly blessed to be at the largest World Games ever, with athletes from 192 nations participating. I was able to work directly with the athletes in the medical assessments, observe the games in various sporting activities, and I was honored to present medals to athletes who have prevailed through adversity and determination. It was an amazing experience.
TSD: Have you begun rolling out the training? How will that be executed?
We are working with Special Olympics to finalize the training and assessment plans. The first phase of the initiative is expected to be completed in the next 12 to 18 months. We are currently raising the funds necessary —1.5 million dollars — to fully assess policies and procedures, as well as create and implement tailored trainings.
TSD: What is your goal for the initiative?
Dailey Lewis: In the simplest terms, our goal is keeping these young athletes safe from the threat of abuse.
The multi-year initiative will include the review and update of Special Olympics International’s policies, procedures and processes; improvement of incident reporting and tracking; the creation of new trainings for staff and volunteers; a summit on the protection of vulnerable individuals including key stakeholders; and engagement with the law enforcement community as a key partner in protecting athletes.