2003 Special Olympics World Summer Games
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|Host city||Dublin, Ireland|
|Opening ceremony||June 21, 2003|
|Closing ceremony||June 29, 2003|
|Officially opened by||Mary McAleese|
|Main venue||Croke Park|
The 2003 Special Olympics World Summer Games were hosted in Ireland, with participants staying in various host towns around the island in the lead up to the games before moving to Dublin for the events. Events were held from 21–29 June 2003 at many venues including Morton Stadium, the Royal Dublin Society, the National Basketball Arena, all in Dublin. Croke Park served as the central stadium for the opening and closing ceremonies, even though no competitions took place there. Belfast, Northern Ireland was the venue for roller skating events (at the Kings Hall), as well as the Special Olympics Scientific Symposium (held from 19–20 June).
Host town programme
177 towns, cities and villages and the Aran Islands hosted national delegations in the run up to the games. Each town ran programmes to educate the local community about the customs of the country they would host and provided facilities for the teams to acclimatise. Newbridge, County Kildare, host to the Japan delegation won the award for best host town.
30,000 volunteer officials and support staff assisted in the running of the games, including 900 staff of the Bank of Ireland who coordinated the host town programme and 800 members of the Irish Defence Forces who maintained the radio communication network, and provided support for bridge building, security duties, VIP drivers, standard bearers for ceremonial events and emergency medical teams. Approximately 1,300 members of both Scouting Ireland (CSI) and Scouting Ireland SAI staffed the Awards Teams for all the disciplines throughout the games. 165 volunteers from the then 15 countries of the EU took part in a European Volunteer Project (EVS), the first ever to be organized in event-related mode. The volunteers are commemorated by having their names on a series of plaques situated in Dublin Castle, just outside the Chester Beatty Library.
The 2003 World Games were the first to be held outside of the United States. Approximately 7000 athletes from 150 countries competed in the games in 18 official disciplines, and three exhibition sports. The participants from Kosovo were the region's first team at an international sporting event. A 12-member team from Iraq received special permission to attend the games, despite ongoing war in their home nation.
The opening ceremony was held in Croke Park featured an array of stars and was hosted by Patrick Kielty. The band U2 were a major feature, and Nelson Mandela officially opened the games. Other performances included The Corrs and the largest Riverdance troupe ever assembled on one stage. 75,000 athletes and spectators were in attendance at the opening ceremonies. Irish and international celebrities such as Arnold Schwarzenegger and Jon Bon Jovi walked with the athletes, with Muhammad Ali as a special guest and Manchester United and Republic of Ireland football player Roy Keane taking the athletes oath with one of the Special Olympians.
The Games Flame was lit at the culmination of the Law Enforcement Torch Run, which more than 2,000 members of the Garda Síochána (Irish Police) and the Police Service of Northern Ireland took part in. This was a series of relays carrying the Special Olympics Torch, the "Flame of Hope", from Europe to the Games' official opening.
The 2003 games were the first to have their opening and closing schemes broadcast on live television, and Radio Telefís Éireann provided extensive coverage of the events through their 'Voice of the Games' radio station which replaced RTÉ Radio 1 on Medium Wave for the duration of the event. There was also a nightly television highlight programme.
Among the activities carried out during the Games were thorough medical checks on the athletes, some of whom had previously undiagnosed conditions uncovered, as some of the athletes came from countries with limited medical facilities or had difficulty communicating their symptoms.
A daily newspaper, the Games Gazette was published for each day of the games.
Among the contributors to the Games was the Irish Prison Service. Prisoners in Mountjoy Prison, Midlands Prison, Wheatfield Prison and Arbour Hill Prison who constructed podiums and made flags, towels, signs, benches and other equipment.
Athletes and coaches such as Lleyton Hewitt and his coach Roger Rasheed (Tennis); Seve Ballesteros, Sandy Lyle and Andrew Marshall (Golf), Mick O'Dwyer (Gaelic football) and Brian Kerr (Soccer) met and encouraged athletes at events during the games.