ESPN, Special Olympics extend broadcast agreement through 2027, will continue to promote ‘inclusion’

Phil Ellsworth / ESPN Images(NEW YORK) -- ESPN and the Special Olympics have extended their broadcast agreement for another eight years into 2027, ensuring the continuance of dynamic storytelling to portray the journeys of the thousands of athletes who participate in the games.

The first event in the new extension will be world winter games in Sweden in 2021 followed by the USA games in 2022, which will be held at the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex in Orlando and the world games in Berlin in 2023, according to a press release.

More than 4,000 athletes, 1,500 coaches and 10,000 volunteers will be participating in the 2022 USA games, Special Olympics CEO Mary Davis told ABC News.

"We'll be continuing to build on this storytelling for various media platforms for the games in 2022," Davis said.

ESPN's broadcast coverage will reach reach fans in North, Central, South America, the Caribbean, Africa, Asia, Australia and New Zealand, according to the release.

The Special Olympics uses the power of sports to create an environment where athletes can showcase their talents and capabilities, and the broadcasts present an "exciting opportunity" for the families and friends of athletes who could not witness the opening ceremony or games live, Davis said.

The relationship between ESPN and the Special Olympics, which has been ongoing for nearly 35 years, is a "catalyst for inclusion," which then portrays to the rest of the world "that there's nothing wrong with being different," Davis said.

Kevin Neghandi, ESPN "SportsCenter" anchor and co-host of the Special Olympics games for the last five years, told ABC News that ESPN's mission is about serving sports fans and capturing significant moments, both on and off the field.

"That's what we do here," he said. "We cover these athletes and we share their story and we open the door for them."

Neghandi described the idea of inclusion as a "big deal," adding that the coverage an athlete receives follows them back to their hometown, where they may have once been bullied or denied access.

"They go back and bring pride and a sense of community," he said.

Neghandi recalled speaking to the emotional father of one athlete at the USA games in Seattle last year, who told him, "You have no idea what this means to my son, but also what it means to my family."

The relationship between ESPN and the Special Olympics is "built on a bedrock of shared belief in the power of sports to positively impact lives and make lasting change in the world," ESPN President Jimmy Pitaro said in a statement.

ESPN will also continue to serve as the global presenting sponsor for Unified Sports, a sports program that unites Special Olympics athletes with partners who do not have intellectual disabilities for training and competition, a role it has held since 2013.

Participation in the program has increased 172 percent to more than 1.8 million athletes since the collaboration began, according to the release.

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