As the sun began to set over St George’s Square on the evening of May 14, there was this growing sense that something important was about to happen.

The square is no stranger to important events and developments. Political candidates celebrate electoral victories. Musical artists celebrate memorable performances. Tourists, residents and students alike flock to the square to admire its majestic architecture and historical significance.

Architecture and significance.

St George’s Square was indeed witness to yet another important event – one long in the making – that offered as much architecture and significance to Europe and the world as it did to the Republic of Malta.

As the world transitions into yet another social and economic phase of the COVID pandemic and as the world navigates a most uncertain future with war raging in Ukraine, the nation of Malta made a strategic investment – financially and socially – in what is the theme of our time. Inclusion.

Far from the romantic theme that it can often be mistaken for, the theme of inclusion has become a powerful and critical element to corporate governance, national policy and social dialogue among nations.

No longer is the theme of inclusion reserved for the last agenda item in board- rooms to satisfy by-law compliance. Through the celebration of the 2022 Special Olympics Malta Invitational Games, the Republic of Malta launched a powerful, impactful and highly relevant message to the world: inclusion is part of the fabric of the nation. 

Under the leadership of Prime Minister Robert Abela, the national government invested significant financial, technical and social resources in welcoming 24 nations from around the world to showcase their skills, highlight their abilities and underscore the importance of unity through sports. 

Led by the president of Special Olympics Malta, Lydia Abela, and driven by national director Anna Calleja and a formidable team, the 2022 Special Olympics Malta Invitational Games represented the first international competition of Special Olympics since the pandemic hit the world.  With close to 1,000 athletes in attendance, the Republic of Malta overnight became a European and global hub of inclusion through sport. Its commitment did not stop at sport alone. 

For centuries, the nation has seen the richness that comes in diversity and bringing cultures together

Free health screenings were made available to all athletes. Academic forums and presentations were offered to hundreds of students and faculty alike. Families from all over the world flocked to Malta to cheer for their athletes and to learn from others and to represent in ways, big and small, the essence of the Special Olympics platform: unified.

These stories were brought to life across traditional and social media channels resulting in a crescendo of coverage during the competition as Malta got behind the athletes in action. The billing of the event as the first major Special Olympics international games since the pandemic in itself became international news.

Malta is no stranger to this critical theme of inclusion. For centuries, the nation has seen the richness that comes in diversity and bringing cultures together. From the culinary arts, to language, to social policy and so much more, Malta made for a most fitting location to celebrate a movement of inclusion that stands to offer a counternarrative to a world increasingly fractured, divided and othered.

Who are the architects of this change? Who are the voices that will compel other nations to follow the Maltese model of change?

Athletes with intellectual disabilities.

From Slovakia, to Italy, to Finland and to the United States and the United Arab Emirates, the athletes of Special Olympics brought out the very best of the nation and the world as they gave it their all: on the football pitch, at the table tennis venue, in the swimming pool.

Sports venues became innovative classrooms, disseminating teachings of solidarity and unity at a time when the global community needs it most. Perhaps most of all, the athletes of Special Olympics demonstrated once again – as they have for over a half century – that,  through the movement, dreams come true.

The artistic director of the opening ceremonies of the 2022 Special Olympics Malta Invitational Games, award-winning creative director Raymond Calleja, offered a strong description of what the games meant to the nation:

“This was much more than a ceremony. This was a national expression of our commitment to all those on the margins. As the performances showed during the opening ceremonies, the athletes of Special Olympics are the stars and we have so much to learn from them.”

As Europe and the world move into a new phase of geopolitics and social and economic development, Malta has invested in the theme of inclusion to bring forth a renewed sense of national architecture and significance, which stands to create a lasting legacy that transcends national borders and ideologies.

The message is clear: for the most marginalised population in the world today, Malta has made dreams come true. That’s the architecture and significance worth celebrating in St George’s Square every day of the year.

The movement of Special Olympics extends its sincere gratitude to the Republic of Malta for its commitment to the athletes of Special Olympics.

Grazzi ħafna Malta. You have made our dreams come true.

David Evangelista is president and managing director of Special Olympics Europe Eurasia.

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