This article is part of our special report Special Olympics 2014.
On Saturday, more than ten thousand people gathered at the special Olympics’ opening ceremony in Belgium, where athletes with intellectual disabilities will compete over the coming days.
The event was opened by Queen Mathilde of Belgium and was attended by politicians, philanthropists and former professional athletes, all there to promote social inclusion and equality through sport.
“I joined because I understand that this kind of organisation drives the whole world to be more inclusive.” said Naked Heart Foundation CEO and founder Natalia Vodiánova.
“Persons with intellectual disabilities are not accepted as equal. They are facing the realities. They are not just not accepted, they don’t have possibilities as the other kids.” said Former Olympic Volleyball Player
The Special Olympics European summer games has attracted 4000 volunteers, including hundreds of medical experts who will give free medical health care to the 2000 contestants.
“We have lunched what we think it’s a health revolution. We call it healthy athletes in healthy communities. We bring doctors to these games not just to give care, but to learn.” said Special Olympics Chairman Tim Shriver.
The initiative, called the Healthy Athletes programme, aims to improve the health of participants and provide training and education for medical experts.
According to Shriver, it is designed to raise awareness about the limited access to quality health care that affects intellectually disabled people.
“People who have more complicated medical conditions get worst care in almost every country in the world. Why? Doctors are not trained, medical professionals are not comfortable, they haven’t been exposed, they haven’t had the clinical hours.” Shriver added.
The so-called “Games of the Heart” will last until September 20th, ending with a closing ceremony in Antwerp.