Athens will host the Word Special Olympics 2011

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A small smiling sun named Apollon, after the name of the god of light, is swimming, rowing, running and saying “I’m in.” These are the symbol and the motto of the International Special Olympics Athens 2011 which will be held from June 25 to July 4 in Athens.

150 days before the official opening ceremony of the biggest sports event for people with intellectual disabilities the Greek Organizing Committee held a sponsors’ conference to present the course of preparation.

7500 athletes from 185 countries will participate in 22 Olympic disciplines. 2500 coaches and 40,000 athletes’ family members will arrive together with them in Athens.

“More than 3000 representatives of international media and 2500 world-known people will visit Athens in this difficult economic period. This is very important for tourism. We try to invite a celebrity to attract the attention of world media in other cases. Now, they will come here wishing to be involved in the efforts of our special athletes,” said in her speech the president of Special Olympics Hellas Joanna Despotopoulou.

She stressed that the games would be influenced by the Greek culture and history and dedicated to the founder of the games Eunice Kennedy Shriver two years after her death. “The games in Athens will be filled with symbolism because they will be held in the country of the “fair play” where the true values of sportiness were born. Here the talent of athletes from Special Olympics will remind us of the true meaning of sport.”

Lee Todd of the International Special Olympics Committee noted in his speech that a new era of the games would begin in Athens. “It’s always very difficult to decide where the next games will be held. We do not want to say “no” to any country. However, when we visited Greece to see the sports facilities and infrastructure we were amazed by the support of the Greek Government and the huge enthusiasm of the Greek Committee. So, we decided to hold the games here.”

The Fire of Hope as it is called will be lit in the presence of the Greek President Karolos Papoulias on June 9 on the hill of Pnika at the foot of the Acropolis where were held the meetings of the assembly of the Athenians in ancient times. The first and the other priestesses will be girls from the Greek Special Olympics gymnastics team. After the fire is lit it will be carried to 60 cities and islands in Greece. The honour guard of the Fire of Hope will involve Evzones of the Presidential Guards.

The torchlight procession will involve 140 police officers from Greece and around the world approved by the local committees of the games. Together with them the fire will carry athletes of the Special Olympics and volunteers from the settlements through which the procession will pass. The aim of the organizers is to acquaint the Greek society with the sporting event attended by special athletes and send the message of the Special Olympics games and movement.

The fire will not make a world tour. It will go in only three cities of very strong influence upon the Greek history and culture: Alexandria in Egypt, Paphos in Cyprus and Istanbul in Turkey.

Immediately after their arrival at the Athens airport the athletes and their coaches will be sent in 60 towns and islands all over the country in the framework of the Polis-Amfitryon program. The aim is to get to know Greek culture, but also to acquaint local communities with their special qualities and skills and to hold their training. According to organizers, hotel-keepers’ response to provide free accommodation is huge and hundreds of youths have applied as volunteers to participate in the organization of events for the athletes.

The Fire of Hope will return to Athens on June 24 and will go through all the monuments in the Greek capital. There, it will be carried to the sacred hill of the Acropolis where it will remain throughout the night guarded by the Evzones of the President. There is the symbolism again because this is the place of the altar where the fire of the Panatinskite games was lit.

The Special Olympics opening and closing ceremonies are directed by the famous choreographer Fokas Evangelinos. He did not reveal anything of the performances but promised they would be fantastic and very interesting. “We chose the opening and closing ceremonies of the games to take place on the old Olympic Stadium in Athens, because as Mrs. Despotopoulou said, there are Olympic Stadiums in all countries but Kalimarmaro is only in Greece.

I’m excited not only by the fact that I am engaged with the ceremonies in the stadium where the first contemporary Olympic Games were held but by the huge interest of volunteers. I’m sure we will all be better people when the fire goes out.”

Within the games will be held various programs and events such as world youth summit which will involve groups of children from all over the world aged between 12 and 17 years. The aim is those who will take the future of the planet into their own hands to get acquainted with people with intellectual disabilities, to exchange ideas and discuss things they would like to change in order to create a society of mutual respect.

“I have met in my life many families with children different from us, the normal. They were imprisoned in their homes and their families tried to hide them from all around, to forget that they exist. The idea behind the Special Olympics movement got these people out of these prisons and they not only have something to say, but often teach us many things.

I tried to find the talent of the children while working with them. And do you know where I found it? I found it in their eyes. When they look at us they want to say “Love us because we can,” said in her brief speech the Olympic champion Voula Patoulidou, the head of volunteers in the Greek Committee of Special Olympics.

Main sponsor of the Games is the state sports lottery OPAP. Coca-Cola, Mattel Toy Company and Procter&Gamble are the international sponsors and nearly 20 Greek companies will support the realization of the sporting event. The athletes and the Fire of Hope will be provided free transport by Aegean Airlines and shipping companies in Greece



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