Farewell to Frances

Sport in Ireland will have to do without one of its finest administrators from next March after Special Olympics Ireland confirmed that Director of Sport Frances Kavanagh is to retire.

Kavanagh has been involved with Special Olympics since 1978 when she first became a volunteer. Working as a PE Teacher by day she turned her energy towards establishing Special Olympics Ireland and has played a key role from the outset in the development of the Special Olympics programme across the island and in providing athletes with an intellectual disability a sports training and competition programme that is recognised nationally, and internationally, as one of the best.

She was appointed to a full-time role as Development Officer within Special Olympics Ireland in 1992 and in 1999 she was appointed as Director of Sport and Competition for the 2003 Special Olympics World Summer Games, the largest sporting event ever to take place on the island of Ireland.


In the early years, Kavanagh worked with the former National Coaching and Training Centre (NCTC) to drive and support the integration of people with disabilities into sport, an area that she has always kept to the fore throughout her career.

Working alongside Coaching Ireland, she has advanced tutor training and materials in support for our athletes and coaches across several sports.

From 3 sports initially to an offering of 14 sports today, Kavanagh has pursued an agenda of engagement, participation, opportunity, and performance for the athletes. She has inspired and led a holistic approach to sports participation through the Health and Wellbeing programme and the Athlete Leadership Programme.

She has always been a great supporter of Sport for Business, recognising that the efforts of backers like eir, Aer Lingus, Bank of Ireland and the many thousands of volunteers that invest time and support can make a real difference to those athletes with whom she has worked so closely.

She has been among our Most Influential Women in Irish Sport in each of the past three years and we hope that she will maintain an interest in the wider area of sport after her retirement. We have no doubt that this will be the case.


Her energy and enthusiasm remain undimmed and in 2016 she introduced the Young Athlete Programme, opening up age-appropriate sports skill development training to athletes from 4 to 7 years of age.

Over the years, Kavanagh has served on several national, European and international committees, including the Special Olympics Europe-Eurasia Sports Rules Advisory Committee and as Chair of the International Sports Rules Advisory Committee.

She has trained and led Irish teams to European and International competitions since 1981, putting Ireland firmly on the map in the global Special Olympics Programme, and simultaneously training and mentoring coaches in the pursuit of excellence in sport in Ireland.

She has brought her depth and breadth of knowledge and vast experience to the wider sports arena, serving as Board Member and President of the Federation of Irish Sport. She was appointed by the Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism, Martin Cullen, to serve as a board member of the Irish Sports Council in 2009, a position to which she was reappointed by Minister Michael Ring in 2015 in the newly named, Sport Ireland.


“We are indebted to Frances’ vision and commitment for propelling Special Olympics athletes to their current recognition and place amongst sports men and women in other sports disciplines,” said Special Olympics Ireland CEO Matt English.

“We are very proud of the sports programme that Frances has nurtured, developed and expanded over her almost 40 years with the organisation. Her work has assured our success into the future.”

“Frances has been an outstanding visionary, leader and friend to colleagues, athletes, coaches, volunteers, clubs and many, many others who have had the pleasure of working alongside her in different capacities. She has been a true inspiration for all and will be greatly missed.”

It will be a big year for the organisation with the National Games coming to Dublin for the first time in 16 years and a major sporting and volunteer programme being planned for the summer.

Frances Kavanagh’s role in building Special Olympics Ireland to the point where it is a model for how the world treats people with disability through the life affirming quality of sport and participation has been exceptional. We wish her well in the next chapter.

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