Green army sets off for Special Olympics World Games in Abu Dhabi

Team Ireland features 91 athletes, 49 coaches and staff, and 400 supporters


The last time Deirdre O’Callaghan (37) represented Ireland at the Special Olympics World Games was in Dublin in 2003, where she picked up a silver medal in kayaking.

Sixteen years later, Ms O’Callaghan, from Finglas, will be competing again – this time at the World Games in Abu Dhabi, which begin next week.

Her mother, two brothers, two sisters-in-law and relatives from the UK are travelling over to support her, but Ms O’Callaghan insists “it’s a bit of fun and a laugh” as she departs for the capital of the UAE.

She is one of 91 athletes, along with 49 coaches and management staff, who set off from Dublin Airport on Thursday afternoon.

Clutching a “good luck” poster at departures, Ms O’Callaghan’s mother Joyce said “I’m really looking forward to it, I think it’s a great chance for her”.

“I think the Special Olympics are absolutely brilliant for them. It’s great that they’re all together and they all know how to enjoy themselves,” she told The Irish Times.

“It makes it even more special going over to see her in Abu Dhabi. It’s a place I wouldn’t go normally but because of the World Games I’m definitely going.”

Opening ceremony

Team Ireland will compete in 12 sports among 7,500 athletes from 190 countries, with the competition beginning next Friday and continuing until March 21st.

The official opening ceremony takes place next Thursday at the Zayed Sports City stadium with performances from Avril Lavigne, Luis Fonsi and Paul Oakenfold.

Swimmer Aisling Beacom (39) from Wicklow town picked up silver and bronze medals at the 2011 Games in Athens but missed out on qualification for the Games in Los Angeles four years ago.

“I like watching pool events and I know all about the rules, so I’ll have a great time. Hopefully I’ll do my best now for Wicklow town and for Ireland,” she said.

“Everyone is supporting me, saying to me ‘do your best’, but the last Games, on the stand, I said if I ever go again I have to get gold. I put myself under so much pressure.”

Apparently that’s always the way with Ireland, it’s just a sea of green at every venue you go into

Ms Beacom’s mother Pam, previously a coach with Special Olympics Ireland, will be travelling over to support her daughter next week.

“This is the first time I’m going as a parent on my holidays. I only have to worry about her,” she said. “I love it, the razzmatazz and I love the athletes. They’re brilliant.”

Irish spectators

Lucy Madigan, family co-ordinator for Team Ireland, said over 400 Irish spectators are travelling to Abu Dhabi, “one of the largest supporting groups going”.

“Apparently that’s always the way with Ireland, it’s just a sea of green at every venue you go into, it’s great,” she said.

“Then there’s a lot of Irish that live in Dubai and Abu Dhabi and they’ve been in touch through the Irish society, they’re all going to be there, so it’s brilliant.”

Ken Kavanagh, Team Ireland’s sports co-ordinator, said excitement started to build when athletes were given their official uniforms in January.

“The coaching staff have been excellent so the preparation of the athletes has been as good as you could expect. They’re as prepared as they could be,” he said.

“Medal-wise we don’t really set targets for them because it’s all about doing the best they can on the day with visions and conditions. It’s difficult to pin something like that down but we will be expecting to have a bit of clink and clamour when we come back in two weeks’ time.”