Staging the Games was a monumental task but it brought out the best in us
Athletes taught everyone a lesson
It wasn’t always like that and we did have our challenges, particularly in the early days. Our biggest and most daunting challenge was to recruit, train, screen, motivate, roster, clothe and feed volunteers.
We had heard great reports about volunteers at the Olympics in Sydney so we recruited an Irish woman who left Australia temporarily to come and work with us for two years.
A staggering 31,000 volunteers signed up to offer their time and talents. Thousands more were on a waiting list. It was the largest volunteer programme in our country’s history and has never been matched.
Raising the finance was another major challenge. We needed €36 million in cash and more than €24 million in value- in-kind services. There were meetings from dawn to dusk seeking this vital support. Our confidence grew with each positive meeting and, one by one, the government, the European Union and major corporations and individuals stepped up to the plate to meet our needs
Our greatest test came five weeks before the Games when the Sars virus broke out. This contagious and life-threatening respiratory infection originated in Asia and affected several countries that would be participating in the Games. We quickly put a plan in place that would allow teams to attend the Games while ensuring the safety of everyone involved.
We delivered on our promise and every team arrived on time, except for Chinese Taipei which arrived two days late.
Accommodation was a huge logistical challenge. We needed to find beds for 7,000 athletes, 3,000 coaches and thousands of family members that all travelled from 160 countries.
Through the host town programme, communities in 177 towns and villages the length and breadth of Ireland opened their hearts and homes in a show of unparalleled love and hospitality. The memory of those experiences is very much alive today and hundreds of welcome signs still stand.
We wanted the Games to be successful in terms of what they would leave behind. The ultimate legacy is that children and adults with intellectual disabilities now have a better life as a result of those Games.
Within months, we saw the introduction of the National Disability Bill 2004 and the Education for Persons with Disabilities Bill 2004. There was increased Government funding for services for people with disabilities ensuring they were no longer dependent on goodwill or charity for their basic needs.l
Mary Davis was chief executive of the 2003 World Summer Games and is president and managing director of Special Olympics Europe/Eurasia.