2006 Special Olympics Ireland Games

Opportunity to be a part of the largest sporting event in Ireland this year

The 2006 Special Olympics Ireland Games will be staged in Belfast next June. Two thousand athletes from all over the island of Ireland will arrive in Belfast to participate in the Games taking place from June 21-25 across various sporting venues in Co Antrim.

Details of the Games, which will be one of the largest sporting events ever staged in Belfast, were announced at a spectacular launch in the Waterfront Hall by Rt Hon Peter Hain, Secretary of State for Northern Ireland and Minister Dermot Ahern TD, Minister for Foreign Affairs, Republic of Ireland.

Reproduced by kind permission of Pacemaker Press InternationalRt Hon Peter Hain warmly welcomed all the Special Olympics athletes who were present at the launch, saying ‘It is truly an honour for Belfast to host the 2006 Special Olympics Ireland Games which will be the largest sporting events in Northern Ireland, indeed on the whole island of Ireland this year.’

Minister Ahern echoed Mr Hain's sentiments, stating that ‘Special Olympics in Ireland has established a proven and well-deserved reputation for running highly successful events with the capability to infuse communities with its incredible energy and enthusiasm’.

To begin the launch, the Special Olympics torch - the 'Flame of Hope' - was carried into the auditorium by Duncan McCausland, Assistant Chief Constable of the Police Service of Northern Ireland and Peter Fitzgerald, Deputy Commissioner of An Garda Síochána.

Gerry Kelly and Des Cahill, both who have been long-term supporters of Special Olympics Ireland, co-hosted the event. Acclaimed singer/songwriter, Juliet Turner from Co Tyrone, was delighted to be a special guest at the launch. She serenaded the athletes on stage to a rapturous applause.

A major volunteer recruitment campaign for the 2006 Special Olympics Ireland Games was also announced. This volunteer recruitment is being led by Belfast-born Ulster & Ireland rugby fly-half David Humphreys, who encouraged people to register as volunteers, saying: ‘The people of Belfast and Northern Ireland can't miss this opportunity to take part - it will be an experience you will never forget and a real chance to make a difference.’

In total, 5,500 volunteers are needed to run the Games, with an average 4,000 - 4,500 required per day. The TEAM 2006 volunteers will ensure that the 2,000 athletes and 500 coaches from all over the island of Ireland are warmly welcomed to Belfast and will run a professional service across the 12 sports as well as the other programmes offered to Special Olympics athletes at the Games.

Reproduced by kind permission of pacemaker Press InternationalThe cost of staging the Games will be £1.7million. Special Olympics Ireland will look to secure funding from various sources, such as corporate sponsorship, cross-border initiatives, government contributions and other fundraising initiatives. From 35,000 sandwiches to 70,000 bottles of water, £10k worth of medical supplies to £135k worth of transport - Special Olympics are appealing to companies across Northern Ireland to lend their support to the Games through sponsorship or value-in-kind services.

Dr Phil Nolan, CEO of Eircom, sponsors of Special Olympics Ireland since 1985, commented: ‘Our involvement with Special Olympics Ireland has been extremely rewarding. All our employees are proud of this association, and many have demonstrated this actively’.

Belfast City Council will join with Eircom as Official Sponsors of the Games. UTV have also signed up as Official Media Partners to the Games. Both Antrim Borough Council, who will host 4 sports during the Games, and Belfast City TV, who run the outdoor Shaftesbury Square screen, have come on board as Friends of the Games.

The 2006 Special Olympics Ireland Games Headquarters has been opened in Ulster Hall in Belfast's city centre, where a Games hotline  (+44 (0) 28 9089 9080) has been set up serviced by trained volunteers to answer queries. Information about all aspects of the Games can be found on the dedicated website, www.2006Games-belfast.com, powered by eircom.net, where people can register online to be a Special Olympics volunteer, read upcoming important dates as well as viewing all the latest news and photographs.

‘These Games will not be forgotten quickly by the people of Belfast as we work towards creating a lasting legacy for people with a learning disability in Northern Ireland,’ said Fergus Finlay, Chairman, Special Olympics Ireland. And indeed the 2006 Special Olympics Ireland Games will not be forgotten in a hurry by the 2,000 athletes, especially as these Games are the final stage to qualifying for as a member of TEAM Ireland, the team of athletes who will compete at the next Special Olympics World Summer Games which will be held Shanghai, China in 2007.