Remarks at the Special Olympics Flame Arrival Ceremony at the United Nations

New York City | July 11, 1991

But no one -- over all the centuries -- ever dreamed that the storied athletes of the Grecian past would have, as their successors, millions and millions of human beings, mentally handicapped persons, training and competing in Olympic-style Games and pageantry.

This is an auspicious occasion.

2,500 years ago, this year, the ancient Olympic Games began. Through many centuries they have represented one of the high achievements of humankind. But no one -- over all the centuries -- ever dreamed that the storied athletes of the Grecian past would have, as their successors, millions and millions of human beings, mentally handicapped persons, training and competing in Olympic-style Games and pageantry.

Today, 250,000,000 to 300,000,000 mentally retarded human beings constitute the largest underprivileged, and discriminated against minority on earth. The numbers of them are increasing, not diminishing, and in many places they continue to be isolated, and rejected. But they now have one escape hatch, one sure way to demonstrate their humanity, improve their skills, and achieve a proper place in life.

Their way to freedom and dignity has turned out to be sports, and, specifically, Special Olympic sports. All of us thank Greece for the idea and inspiration which made the original Olympics possible. We salute the Ambassador of Greece, Antonios Xarchos, who is with us this morning.

But, our heroes and heroines are the Special Olympics athletes here today and their colleagues around the world. 1,500,000 athletes are now enrolled in Special Olympics. By the year 2000, more than 2,000,000 will be participating. Parents, coaches, friends number another 1,000,000 persons in Special Olympics today. By the year 2000 Special Olympics will be the largest unified athletic program on earth.

May this extraordinary enterprise continue to be endorsed by governments, by the United Nations, by leaders of religion and civic enterprises, by parents and philanthropists.

May all of us gather at this United Nations Park in the year 2000 and rejoice then in a glorious mission and service to all of humanity, -- faithfully fulfilled and prosperous.