European ‘Special Olympics’ kick off in Belgium

Swimming Day 2 of the Special Olympics Asia Pacific Games. The Forum, Newcastle University, Callaghan. [Stephen Tyler / Newcastle Sundance]

This article is part of our special report Special Olympics 2014.

SPECIAL REPORT: Athletes with intellectual disabilities will be able to compete in different sports for the next ten days, at the Special Olympics European summer games in Belgium.

The event will host two thousands athletes from Europe and Eurasia between 2 and 20 September in Antwerp.

The games use sports to help those with intellectual disabilities better integrate in society, and give them the opportunity to interact with others.

Athletes with intellectual disabilities will compete in ten sports, including football, judo, or swimming. But basketball and table tennis teams will be consist of persons with and without intellectual disabilities.

The arrival of the Olympic flame from Olympia, Greece, kicks off the event on Tuesday (9 September). The torch will be carried through Belgium for four days until it arrives at the opening ceremony on Saturday (13 September) in Antwerp.

The Special Olympics event is officially recognised by the International Olympic Committee. It has been dubbed the “games of the heart” because it is meant to be more than just a sports event.

Apart from sport, the contestants will take part in a number of other activities. The host town program allows the athletes to spend a few days in a local Belgian town and meet other contestants and their community.

A Special Olympics art exhibition will help showcase the work of artists with intellectual disabilities during the games. The artwork is then sold to raise money. 

Participants will also receive a free health screening before the games.

The European Special Olympics games are organised every four years, with the help of the European Commission.

“Sport is a crucial means of encouraging social inclusion; it can help people to develop social skills, friendships and to feel valued,” said Androulla Vassiliou, European Commissioner for Education, Culture, Multilingualism and Youth.

The EU has been a supporter of the event for over a decade. At the last Special Olympics in Greece in 2011, the Commission provided the European Special Olympics with €10 million in financing.

The European Special Olympics Summer Games are organised by Special Olympics (SO) every four years in a major European city.

SO is one of the biggest sports organisations for people with intellectual disabilities. It provides year-round training and competitions for more than four millions athletes from all around the world.

These activities are meant to get together people with and without intellectual disabilities and to give them the opportunity to be involved in physical activities and competitions. 

The European Commission has been supporting sports events as a way to promote social inclusion through projects like "Youth Unified Sports" or Sport Preparatory Actions. 

  • 2-19 Sept.: Art exhibition
  • 9 Sept.: Arrival of the Olympic torch in Brussels (passing by the European Parliament)
  • 10-12 Sept.: Host town programme 
  • 13 Sept.: Opening ceremony
  • 20 Sept.: Closing ceremony

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