This article is part of our special report Special Olympics 2014.
2,000 athletes with intellectual disabilities from 58 countries are set to compete in 10 Olympic Sports.
Starting on Tuesday with the arrival of the Olympic flame, Belgium will host the 2014 Special Olympic European Summer games, the largest sporting event of its kind.
For the past decade, the European Commission has supported the so-called “games of the heart”, which aim to promote social inclusion and equality through sport.
“We are an important financial partner and of course, I would also say we are a political partner. What Special Olympics do, what they aim at is exactly what we want to do in the field of sports,k in terms of social promotion, inclusion through sport.” said Yves Le Lostecque, head of the European Commission’s sport unit.
In 2007, the EU signed the UN Convention on the rights of persons with disabilities, committing to make social inclusion through sports effective.
This year, the European Commission is supporting the Special Olympics with €1.7 million of funding, a significant increase over the 500.000 euros given in 2013.
According to the Commission, events like the games will be funded in the future through Erasmus+, an EU programme that finances education and training across Europe.
“We have now a new EU work plan for sports, which has been adopted and will be implemented in the 3 coming years. Integration and social inclusion is one of the key aspects of the EU work band for sport (…). The financial instrument will be Erasmus +. So we will be able through Erasmus+ to help organisations such as the Special Olympics.” Le Lostecque added.
50.000 people are expected to attend the Games, which are held every two years in major cities around the world.
It is estimated that between 1 and 3 per cent of people in the European Union has an intellectual disability.