330,000 spectators, almost 20,000 volunteers, 6,500 athletes in 26 sports – the Special Olympics World Games have raised the issue of inclusion to a new level in Germany. “The most important message is that we have offered the athletes a stage that Special Olympics has not previously had,” said Sven Albrecht, head of Special Olympics Germany and the organization of the World Games for the mentally and multiply disabled, which took place on Sunday after eight days came to an end.
The games were characterized by storms of applause and a sometimes boisterous party atmosphere in the interaction between athletes and spectators. On the penultimate day alone, more than 17,000 visitors came to the competitions in the Olympic Park, the Berlin Exhibition Centre, at the Neptune Fountain in front of the Red Town Hall or on Straße des 17. Juni. At times, the rush was so strong that queues formed in front of the halls.
“All 7000 athletes from all over the world are winners. And we won too: We presented ourselves as an enthusiastic sports nation and as a cosmopolitan society. We are a great host for such large international sporting events,” said Nancy Faeser, the Federal Minister of the Interior responsible for sports, and Juliane Seifert, State Secretary in the Federal Ministry of the Interior and Homeland, spoke of a “double bang for inclusion”: “We have the athletes owe it to observing that and how inclusion works.”
Almost 20,000 volunteers who, among other things, distributed 61.5 tons of groceries and food, as well as 1,200 referees ensured that everything ran smoothly. And were also a great enrichment for the volunteers. “You’ve been lucky with your health in your life and now you want to give something back,” said Klaus-Dieter Kalweit, who acted as referee at the boccia competitions, “you get it back three or four times. Indescribable.”
Christiane Krajewski, President of Special Olympics Germany, who had said before the games that the closing ceremony at the Brandenburg Gate on Sunday evening had to be the beginning “that would lead us to the next stage”. In return, she wishes “that the athletes can continue to live the self-confidence, self-representation and creative will they have gained in the week in society”. In addition, the good of the World Games can also be transferred to other world sports. This includes accessibility as well as easy language.
As early as next year, Germany can prove that inclusion has reached a new stage. The European Football Championship should be more inclusive and take the Special Olympics as a model. “Standards were set for inclusive major events,” said Seifert, “The European Football Championship is the first legacy of the Special Olympics.”
But the games are also an important brand for athletes and Special Olympics Germany. “We’ve evolved and grown stronger over the years preparing for the Games,” Krajewski said.
In particular, the host town program, in which 216 municipalities had taken in the 176 delegations days before the games, had also set international standards. The athletes and team companions as well as family members were able to acclimatize thanks to inclusive offers and numerous activities in the individual cities throughout Germany.
“The Host Town program was the opener for the Games and for inclusion. We are taking the message to the nations. We need regional programs,” said Mary Davies, CEO of Special Olympics International, also with a view to the upcoming Games, which will be hosted in Turin in winter 2025 and Perth, Australia, in summer 2027.