New Western Chair in Sport and Social Impact honours Special Olympics pioneer

Western University is poised to lead research on the role sport plays in benefiting those with intellectual and developmental disabilities, thanks to a generous $1.5 million donation.  

The gift, a one-time legacy project to celebrate Special Olympics’ 50th Anniversary, is a collaboration by the Special Olympics Canada Foundation, Special Olympics Canada, its Provincial/Territorial Chapters and several affiliated organizations and champions. It establishes the Dr. Frank J. Hayden Chair in Sport and Social Impact in Western’s Faculty of Health Sciences.

The $1.5 million investment, along with matching funds from Western, creates a $3-million endowed Chair, named in honour of Western alumnus, Frank J. Hayden, O.C., BA’55, LLD’11.

Hayden dedicated his academic career to researching the effect of sports and physical activity on people with intellectual and developmental disabilities, conceiving the idea behind the Special Olympics while working at Western. 

His research reached the Joseph P. Kennedy Jr. Foundation, whose mandate was to support people with intellectual disabilities. Recruited by the Foundation, Hayden designed and directed the first International Special Olympics Summer Games in 1968, attracting 1,000 athletes from the United States and Canada. He has been working with the Special Olympics movement throughout its 50-year history and played a pivotal role in its growth globally. There are now more than five million athletes in over 172 countries in its programs, including more than 45,000 athletes in Canada.

The Hayden Chair will advance the work of Western’s Sport and Social Impact Research Group – an integrated team involving scholars, graduate students, and partner organizations – to focus on the social impact of sport and physical activity on those with intellectual and developmental disabilities, with emphasis on social inclusion, health equity, and mobility.  

The Chair will also work in conjunction with Special Olympics Canada to create and contribute to a knowledge hub that helps transfer research knowledge out to Special Olympics communities, athletes, families and supporters.

Chair honouree Frank Hayden attended today’s gift announcement and celebration, alongside Western President Amit Chakma, Faculty of Health Sciences Dean Jayne Garland, and Mark Tewksbury, Board Chair and President of Special Olympics Canada.

“From his strong belief that people with intellectual and developmental disabilities could participate in, and benefit from sport, Dr. Hayden spearheaded a movement that truly changes people’s lives,” Tewksbury said. “Special Olympics  in Canada is thrilled to establish a partnership with Western that not only honours Dr. Hayden’s vision, but ensures important knowledge around the impact of sport on individual and community wellbeing can be shared throughout our Special Olympic chapters to benefit our families and kids, and throughout all our communities to drive social change and a better quality of life for everyone.”

The Chair will be housed in Western’s Kinesiology department, in the Faculty of Health Sciences, the home of the International Centre for Olympic Studies.

“We are honoured to be partnering with Special Olympics across Canada and affiliated organizations and champions,” said Garland. “This gift will help us build upon an already strong roster of world-class researchers, who come from a variety of backgrounds and disciplines, and who are finding new and innovative ways to make real and lasting change for people around the world.”

MEDIA CONTACT: Stephen Ledgley, Senior Media Relations Officer, Western University, 519-661-2111 x85283,


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