Events are under way in Dublin, where Ireland is hosting the eleventh version of the Special Olympics World Games. Qualification events in a number of sports began early this morning, although the official opening of the games took place this evening at a spectacular opening ceremony in Croke Park. The Special Olympics organisation is involved in a close and fruitful relationship with UEFA as one of the members of the European football body's charity portfolio.
Largest sporting event
The 2003 Special Olympics is the largest sporting event taking place in the world this year, with 7,000 athletes, 3,000 coaches and delegates and 28,000 families and friends from 166 countries descending upon Ireland for the event. This year's renewal is particularly noteworthy as it is the first time the event has taken place outside the United States of America.
The games include a wide array of sports, with athletes competing in aquatics, athletics, badminton, basketball, bocce, bowling, cycling, equestrian, football, golf, gymnastics, powerlifting, roller skating, sailing, table tennis, tennis, team handball, and volleyball. There will also be demonstrations in pitch and putt, kayaking and judo.
While the games themselves take place in and around the capital city of Dublin, the athletes arrived in the country earlier in the week with each delegation being received by a town around the country. The host town programme offered athletes four or five days to acclimatise to Ireland and sample some of the famous local hospitality.
Volunteer recruitment for the games began back in January 2001, with around 30,000 volunteers needed to ensure that events run smoothly. The festival village based at the RDS in Simmonscourt, south Dublin, will be the centre of activity for the course of the games from 21 to 28 June. In addition to staging events such as table tennis and acting as a centre of communications for the games, the RDS will also be the venue for a celebration of Irish art and culture with leading Irish figures from the worlds of music, literature and fashion appearing at various stages over the week.
The opening ceremony was attended by 85,000 people, with guests of honour including Irish president Mary McAleese, the founder of the Special Olympics Eunice Kennedy Shriver, boxing legend Muhammed Ali, former South African president Nelson Mandela, and internationally famous Irish bands U2 and The Corrs.
Over 1,200 athletes are expected to participate in the football tournament during the Games. As one of the four team sports, football will incorporate an eleven-a-side competition which will take place the A.U.L complex in Clonshaugh which contains twelve full size pitches and is sometimes used by the Republic Of Ireland national side as a training facility. The five-a-side competition takes place at Belfield, the home of Ireland's largest university, UCD, which contains excellent facilities for both five-a-side football and basketball.
The Special Olympics 'Flame Of Hope' has been travelling around Ireland for the past week and on Saturday afternoon completed the final leg of its journey by passing through Dublin city centre on its way to Croke Park. The Special Olympics World Games promises to be an extremely special occasion, and while all competitions will be keenly contested, the function of the games is best demonstrated by its mission statement.
'Unparalleled sporting and cultural experience'
"To provide in Ireland a unique and unparalleled sporting and cultural experience for the athletes taking part, from Europe and all over the world, as well as for their coaches, families, volunteers, and sponsors, combining the excitement of sport with the opportunity for personal distinction and pride."
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