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Special Olympics Research Partnership Unveiled

21 September 2010

The University of Ulster has been appointed the official research collaborating centre for Special Olympics in the Europe/Eurasia region.  

Professor Roy McConkey signed the Memorandum of Agreement with Mary Davis, Managing Director of Special Olympics Europe/Eurasia at the 2010 Special Olympics European Summer Games taking place in Warsaw from September 18-24.

The collaborating centre at Ulster will now join the University of Illinois as a regional research institute with the University of Boston/Massachusetts retaining its place as a global research collaborating centre for Special Olympics International. The new centre will be located in the Sport and Exercise Sciences Research Institute on the Jordanstown campus.

Over the last two years, Ulster researchers have secured over $300k in research funding from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to undertake work with athletes with intellectual disabilities aligned to Special Olympics.

The research team, consisting of Professor Roy McConkey from the Institute of Nursing Research, Project Manager Dr Sandra Dowling and Dr David Hassan, from the Sport and Exercise Sciences Research Institute, have worked in close harmony with Sabine Menke, Senior Manager of Youth, Education and Unified Sports for Special Olympics in the Europe/Eurasia region.

The team from Ulster presented their findings at the Special Olympics University Summit in Warsaw on Sunday (Sept. 19). 

 Their 18-month study focussed on the experiences of athletes who participated in the Unified Sports programme - a unique initiative in which athletes with intellectual disabilities compete alongside partners without intellectual disabilities in a range of sports.  They worked across five European countries and collaborated with university colleagues throughout the continent.

At present, the team are engaged in a further research project examining coach-athlete relationships on a global scale as teams prepare to compete at the Special Olympics World Summer Games to be held in Athens, Greece in summer 2011.

Speaking at the Warsaw conference Professor McConkey said “Special Olympics are a world-wide movement working for the social inclusion through sport of people with intellectual disabilities.  It is a great honour for Ulster to join with this endeavour and we look forward to forging links throughout continental Europe."

Mary Davis, Managing Director Special Olympics Europe/Eurasia said: “Throughout the past 18 months of this extensive study we developed a very good relationship with the University of Ulster. The group around Professor McConkey showed an outstanding appreciation of the Special Olympics programme, they brought new ideas and perspectives to bear and were always ready to adjust to the specific challenges of working with people with special needs.”