President praises Special Olympians as national games open
Michael D Higgins says 1,600 participants ‘refuse to to be defined or limited’ by stereotypes
A representative of the Eastern Region team in the Special Olympics Ireland Games salutes supporters during the opening ceremony at Tallaght Stadium, Dublin. Photograph: Niall Dickson/Inpho.
Participants in the Special Olympics Ireland Games gather at the opening ceremony in Tallaght Stadium, Dublin on Thursday evening. Photograph: Niall Dickson/INPHO.
President of Ireland Michael D. Higgins speaks on stage to the athletes at the opening of the Special Olympics Ireland Games on Thursday. Photograph: Tommy Dickson/Inpho.
There was a full house in Tallaght Stadium on Thursday night as President Michael D Higgins opened the Special Olympics Ireland Games.
Some 1,600 athletes with intellectual disabilities took part in the opening ceremony of the 40th national games, at which they were cheered on by coaches, families, supporters, friends and an army of volunteers.
The 32 counties of Ireland are represented at the games with five teams taking part - Munster, Leinster, Connacht, Ulster and the Eastern Region, which covers Dublin and Wicklow.
The four-day event will see athletes compete across 13 sports with the backing of some 2,500 volunteers who are giving over their time to make sure everything goes to plan.
The athletes enjoyed their moment in the spotlight, which came after 12 months of training following their selections to the regional teams. The crowd stood to applaud each procession of athletes, who waved back to their supporters.
Dublin is hosting the national games for the first time in 16 years, and the organisers had to deal with a fair share of adversity in advance.
Strong winds from Storm Hector meant the large screens and stage to be used in the ceremony had to be dismantled in the early hours of Thursday due to safety concerns. A smaller stage flanked by two screens was erected to ensure the games could be formally opened.
Despite the choppy weather overnight, it was clear skies and sun by the time people began to arrive for the opening ceremony.
Matt English, chief executive of Special Olympics Ireland, said the organisation and all those involved had been looking forward to the games for so long.
He said the volunteers who give their time, both over the weekend and in local sports clubs throughout the year, were the “lifeblood of the Special Olympics”.
Mr English paid tribute to the many companies who back the national games, including sponsor Eir and businessman Denis O’Brien, a long time supporter the games.
The athletes recited the Special Olympics motto, “let me win, but if I cannot win, let me be brave in the attempt”, before President Higgins told the stadium the participants were a source of great pride for the country.
“Like all Irish people I remember with great joy the 2003 Special Olympics world summer games. And the great pride we all felt that Ireland became the first country outside the United States to host the world games,” he said.
The athletes involved “have refused to to be defined or limited, by any narrow stereotypes that might still linger in any corner of our society”, he said, adding that they are instead recognised for their “skills and abilities”.
Athletes who distinguish themselves at the national games will be hoping to be selected to represent Ireland at the next world summer games, which take place in Abu Dhabi next year.
The games themselves will take place in sports venues across Dublin, Meath and Kildare, with the majority staged in the national sports campus in Blanchardstown.