Thousands of athletes have left Dublin with happy memories following the conclusion of the 11th Special Olympics World Games.
The extravaganza ended with a lively closing ceremony after a truly memorable week. Sunday night's ceremony saw a large crowd at the city's Croke Park crowd entertained by a wide variety of Irish and international music acts. A succession of video clips and interviews reinforced the successes of the athletes over the preceeding week, showcasing the skills of all involved.
The football competition at Belfield and the AUL attracted some of the biggest crowds, with countries from Africa, Asia, Central America and the Caribbean coming to the fore as the destination of the gold medals was decided. The five-a-side teams from Saudi Arabia and Barbados along with the eleven-a-side teams from El Salvador and Costa Rica reached exceptional standards of play.
Fair play on show
However, the event was not just about the winners, and the sheer dedication of the athletes and spirit of fair play in the matches was the real triumph of the competition. One small memory, of a Dutch goalkeeper correcting a referee's decision and admitting that he had touched the ball behind for a corner, demonstrates this particular aspect of the Special Olympics.
Experience passed on
Over the course of the week, in association with UEFA, a number of coaches showcased their skills and worked with all the teams. Respected men such as Lawrie McMenemy, Bill Bygroves, Craig Johnston and Noel O'Reilly all gave their time to impress their knowledge upon the players.
At the closing ceremony, Mary Davis, the CEO of the 2003 World Games, summed up the thanks from the organising committee to the 30,000 volunteers who gave up a week's work to ensure the smooth running of events. She said: "These Games would not have been possible without your tireless support and enthusiasm, as you gave Special Olympics athletes a magnificent Irish welcome, and provided boundless encouragement to everyone participating in and visiting the Games.
"You have made these Games an even greater success than we could have hoped for, and made the Games such a fantastic experience for the athletes." For some the experience is not over, with the Chinese Taipei delegation heading to their host town of Portlaoise to spend a number of days. They had been unable to travel to the town before the Games due to quarantine restrictions undertaken by the delegation to prevent any SARS related infection.
On to Asia
While the Games have generated awareness and tolerance of people with learning disabilities, all parties have expressed the hope that the experience will encourage others to volunteer their services to help on a regular basis. If achieved, it would be the most fitting epitaph to the 2003 Special Olympics World Games. The flame of hope now travels on to Asia, for the next renewal of the Games in Japan and China.
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