Receiving only a fraction of the column inches of other major sporting events, the Special Olympics brings together thousands of athletes with a learning disability. Thomas MacMahon finds out more
From the 21st to the 29th of June 2003, the largest sporting event in the world took place in Ireland, as more than 7000 athletes with learning disabilities from 150 countries competed in 21 sports. The 2003 Special Olympics World Summer Games required 30 000 volunteers and represented one of the largest volunteer effort in Irish history.
The Special Olympics has grown enormously since Eunice Kennedy Shriver, sister of President J F Kennedy, founded it in the United States in 1963. The movement is not the same as the Paralympics--which are only for elite athletes with physical disabilities--but is open to all athletes with any form of learning disability, giving them an opportunity to develop and display their talents and abilities. The aim is to encourage society to replace pity with acceptance and respect. Officially recognised by the International Olympic Committee in 1988, more than a million athletes are currently