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  • Special Olympics World Summer Games Signal Change in China


    Germany's FIFA women's world cup champions came to Shanghai to sign autographs for their counterparts in the Special Olympics Games. (Getty Images)  
    (ATR) The largest sporting event ever held in China (about to be eclipsed by the Olympics) closes with fireworks, songs and a promise from the President Hu Jintao.

    Tenor Jose Carreras performed a duet with Shanghai star Liu Lian for the Special Olympics World Summer Games closing ceremony Thursday night at Jiangwan Stadium. Also on stage were Danish pop band Michael Learns to Rock and musician Kenny G.

    More than 10,000 athletes and staff from more than 160 countries gathered for the first Special Olympics games to be held in China. The Oct. 2 – 11 event involved 30 venues and more than 40,000 volunteers throughout Shanghai.

    Dragon boat, dragon dance and lion dance were on the 25-event schedule in addition to more traditional sports from aquatics to volleyball.

    While Special Olympics is not part of the Olympic Movement, there is a formal cooperation between the two in the interest of athletes with intellectual disabilities. Special Olympics is the only organization authorized by the IOC to use the word "Olympics" worldwide.

    1964 Olympic swimming champion Donna De Varona of the U.S. came to a conference on the well-being of people with intellectual disabilities held in conjunction with the games.

    "Sports is a language everybody knows, you don't need to talk to each other in the competition. The Special Olympics International did a fantastic job in the last few decades, and what we need most now is the role of the government," she said, explaining that even in the most developed countries there are significant limits to the opportunities for people with intellectual disabilities.
    Hu Jintao waves to the opening ceremony crowd. (Getty Images)  

    Chinese president Hu Jintao appeared at the games opening ceremony. The appearance of such a high-ranked leader may signal a change in government attitudes from one of indifference to caring for people with intellectual disabilities.

    Hu promised increased funding to integrate the intellectually disabled into mainstream life and work, Chinese media report.

    There are some 650,000 athletes in China who participate in Special Olympics programs, a quarter of the world's total. Special Olympics China plans to expand to one million athletes with growing government funding. The China delegation numbered some 1,700.

    Typhoon Krosa disrupted the schedule of outdoor events on Oct. 8, causing a shift in schedule.

    The first Special Olympics World Summer Games were held in Chicago in 1968. Boise, Idaho will host the next winter edition in 2009. The next summer games are scheduled for Athens in 2011.

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