A special ceremony was held at the Letzigrund stadium in Zurich today to mark the grand opening of a new office for Special Olympics Switzerland – an organisation that provides year-round sports training and competitions for athletes with intellectual disabilities.
The event also provided the perfect opportunity to wish good luck and bon voyage to the Swiss Special Olympics delegation before they set off to take part in the Summer Games in Athens from 25 June to 4 July. FIFA President Joseph S. Blatter joined a number of famous faces from the worlds of sport and politics to attend the public event. Blatter spoke at length with athletes and their families, and even tried his hand at a spot of table tennis.
After a few rallies, the FIFA President gave a speech in which he said: “Sport plays a vital role. It has the power to connect people all over the world. It allows people to perform and gain recognition, and also brings enjoyment and elation. One thing that must not be forgotten, though, is fair play. I wish you all good luck for the World Games.” Blatter then joined the Swiss delegation to pose for photos ahead of their departure for Greece.
Aldo Doninelli, head of the Swiss delegation, said: “We will spend four days in Patras to acclimatise and find our bearings. We will then divide and spread to three different locations, due to the long distances between venues for different events. This is the largest delegation we’ve ever taken to a World Games, for the simple reason that our activities have been growing non-stop over the past few years.”
“There’s a great feeling of excitement ahead of our departure. We’re feeling quite confident because everything’s going well within the team. The athletes are feeling calm and that’s the most important thing for us,” added Doninelli.
Special Olympics is the world’s largest sports organisation for people with intellectual disabilities. The organisation was founded in the USA by Eunice Kennedy-Shriver (John Fitzgerald Kennedy’s elder sister) and is active in more than 170 different countries.
The World Games – the biggest event on the Special Olympics calendar – are held every four years, and alternate between winter and summer versions every two years. The statistics for the Athens edition are certainly impressive: the games will host 7,500 athletes from 185 countries, with 22 sporting events taking place over 30 different locations. 25,000 volunteers will be involved, along with 2,500 coaches and 3,000 officials. The Swiss delegation alone is made up of 71 athletes and 30 chaperones.
FIFA has actively supported Special Olympics through its Football for Hope initiative since 2005, and ten of the movement’s programmes in Africa employ football as tool to help integrate people with intellectual disabilities. One of Football for Hope’s centres in the Namibian township of Katutura, Windhoek (part of the 20 centres for 2010 campaign) is entirely dedicated to the work of Special Olympics.