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Special Olympics athlete and leader Kiera Byland inspires AIPS Congress to champion inclusion through sport

In a stirring moment at the 86th AIPS Congress, Kiera Byland, a multiple gold medal-winning cyclist and advocate for inclusion, delivered a powerful speech that resonated with attendees. As the International Sports Press Association marked its centenary, Byland took the stage to commemorate the progress made in sports journalism while challenging the status quo regarding inclusion in sports.


Standing before the esteemed audience, Byland reflected on the origins of AIPS, highlighting a pivotal moment captured in history—a photograph depicting five influential sports journalists gathered in a boxing ring a century ago. This moment marked the birth of AIPS, with a mission to champion the principles of sport and uphold the independence of sports journalism. However, Byland emphasized that a glaring absence persisted—women, particularly those with intellectual and developmental disabilities (IDD), were scarcely represented.


Drawing attention to the lack of inclusion faced by individuals like herself a century ago, Byland shattered stereotypes and shared her journey of overcoming adversity. From battling bullying in school to finding solace and purpose in sports through Special Olympics, Byland’s story illustrated the transformative power of inclusion. She emphasised the pivotal role of sports in fostering confidence, leadership, and self-worth among individuals with IDD.

“Growing up as someone with IDD, I struggled to fit in. In school, I was bullied because I didn’t fit in, I did odd things, I wasn’t “normal”. I was isolated, and I was humiliated by others. They laughed at me, taunted me, traumatised me, because I was different, but I was just being ME. It became so bad, I had no self-worth, no self-value and I harmed myself because of it,” she said.

AIPS President Gianni Merlo hugs Special Olympics athlete and leader Kiera Byland on stage at the AIPS Congress (Photo by Carlo Pozzoni/AIPS Media)



Byland’s accolades, including multiple gold medals and recognition on the Queen’s Birthday Honours list, underscored her dedication to breaking barriers and advocating for inclusivity in sports. Her call to action resonated deeply with attendees as she urged sports journalists to amplify the voices and stories of Special Olympics athletes worldwide.

“In 2014, I was then introduced to Special Olympics through cycling and swimming. I know it might sound a bit dramatic, but sport changed my life. It saved me. I have had many opportunities to compete at national, regional and international levels with Special Olympics,” she happily expressed herself.


With a compelling plea for unified inclusion, Byland implored journalists to leverage their platforms to create a more inclusive world—one where every athlete, regardless of ability, is welcomed and celebrated. Highlighting the vast reach of Special Olympics across more than 170 countries, she invited journalists to forge connections with local programs and amplify their impact through storytelling.

“We need more sports media covering our Special Olympics events and telling our stories. There are over two hundred million people with IDD around the world. The goal is to reach out to every one of them and their families, to bring them the gift of sport though Special Olympics. And you can help us,” she made her plea to the AIPS delegates.

In closing, Byland challenged the audience to embrace inclusivity not only in sports journalism but also in their organisations. With a simple yet profound message—”Choose to include”—she called upon every individual to play a role in fostering a more equitable and accepting society.

In a one-on-one with Special Olympics Head of communication’s Fiona Hynes said they will start awarding sports journalists who share news widely about people with special needs in sports.

As the applause faded and delegates absorbed Byland’s stirring words, a collective determination emerged—a commitment to champion inclusion, one story at a time. With Kiera Byland leading the charge, the AIPS Congress embarked on a new era of advocacy, empowerment and unity in sports journalism.

Credit: AIPS Media 

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