Greek organizers of Special Olympics confident of hosting best Games ever

10:13, January 27, 2011      

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Despite the economic crisis which has hit Greece hard, Athens will be ready to host in June the best World Summer Special Olympics ever, said the Greek organizers on Wednesday, 150 days before the start of the Games.

"In a bleak environment, we always need a rainbow. Our athletes will become this rainbow of joy and optimism for the world," said Joanna Despotopoulou, President of the Greek Organizing Committee of the Games, during a sponsors forum held in Athens.

Approximately 7,500 Special Olympic athletes from 185 countries across the globe, among which China participate with a 137-member delegation, are expected in Greece for the Games.

The Flame of Faith, Love and Hope for the Athens 2011 Special Olympics will be lit on June 9 at the archaeological site of Pnika opposite to the Acropolis hill.

After a torch relay that will reach Instanbul, Egypt, Cyprus and 60 cities across Greece, the opening ceremony will be held on June 25 at Panathinaikon Stadium in Athens, where the first modern Olympic Games were held in 1896.

The Athens 2011 World Summer Special Olympics will run to July 4.

Athletes to compete in 22 sports in 30 venues will be accompanied by 2,500 coaches and 40,000 family members and friends, 3,000 dignitaries and 3,000 media representatives and be supported by 19,000 volunteers.

The budget of the Games stands at 73 million euros (about 99.8 million U.S. dollars). A 35 percent of the necessary funds were invested by the Greek state and a 65 percent by domestic and international donors, such as Coca Cola and Cosco, explained Despotopoulou.

She praised hoteliers across Greece who amidst the crisis offer free of charge thousands of rooms and meals to the Special Olympic athletes in the context of a parallel Host Town program. The program will give athletes the opportunity to travel across Greece before the opening ceremony and experience Greek hospitality and culture.

For first time since the birth of the Special Olympics movement in 1968, Greek organizers plan to host a long series of parallel events, such as the Global Youth Activation summit for youth with and without intellectual disabilities.

They expect that the major athletic event of the Special Olympics and the parallel festivals will boost awareness of the abilities of people with special needs and the ailing Greek economy this summer.

The key to success is hard work, courage, determination and optimism, said the Greek organizers.

"When the world seems grey and small... when you are afraid to be different, listen to your heart and everything will miraculously change, everything is in our minds. When everything around you collapses, I will be there for you," says the lyrics of the official song written and preformed by the Greek pop group Onirama for the 2011 Athens Special Olympics.

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