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December 2, 2013
Special Olympics Asia Pacific Games kick off in Newcastle

The opening ceremony at Hunter Stadium, Newcastle. Photo/ Phillip Wittke, AIPS Member
NEWCASTLE, December 2, 2013 - Over 2,500 Special Olympics athletes, their coaches and support teams from 29 Asia Pacific and East Asia nations marched proudly into Hunter Stadium to officially open the first Special Olympics 2013 Asia Pacific Games. The march-in kicks off an incredible week of competitions that will showcase the transformative power of sport for people with intellectual disabilities. The inaugural Special Olympics 2013 Asia Pacific Games is a flagship event of Special Olympics.

The Opening Ceremony heralded the start of the inaugural Special Olympics Asia Pacific Games which is being staged in Newcastle until 7 December. The athletes will compete in nine sports across seven venues in the Newcastle-Hunter region with competition starting on Monday in athletics, basketball, bocce, badminton, cricket, football, table tennis, ten pin bowling and swimming.

Special Olympics International CEO Janet Froetscher sent a message of support to the athletes that was shared at the opening ceremony: “Athletes, it is your time to shine! Every day around the world we create opportunities of acceptance and inclusion through our sports, health, education and community building programs. We strive to build communities full of joy and wellness, instilling in young people the benefits of playing unified – uniting athletes with and without intellectual disabilities as teammates. Today and throughout these Games, enjoy the moments of accomplishment, the moments of sheer play, but also consider how everyone can create opportunities of accomplishment every day for our athletes."

Apart from celebrating Special Olympics athletes in front of a 26,450 strong audience, the ceremony was also an ode to the host country’s rich history and cultural diversity, from traditional Aboriginal performances, to a stunning visual display of Newcastle surf and beach culture.

Echoing the inclusive and unified spirit of Special Olympics, many of the dance and musical performances involved people with and without disabilities from community groups around the Newcastle-Hunter region. The star-studded affair also included Australia’s most successful male vocal group, Human Nature, Australian music royalty Marcia Hines, along with other artists Iva Davies, The McClymonts, Silvie Paladino, Doug Parkinson, Darren Percival and Marina Prior.

The ceremony reached its climax as the Law Enforcement Torch Run® - which started in Sydney on Tuesday and making its way through the Hunter Valley region to Newcastle - entered the Stadium. New South Wales (NSW) Police Officers and Special Olympics athletes accompanied the Flame of HopeTM onto the field. The Flame® was symbolically delivered by New South Wales Police Commissioner Andrew Scipione to Australian athlete, Geoffrey Kirby, marking the end of its journey with the Law Enforcement Torch Run® and the beginning of the athletes' Games.

The Special Olympics 2013 Asia Pacific Games was declared open by The Governor General of The Commonwealth of Australia, Her Excellency the Honourable Quentin Bryce AC CVO. The Governor General, who is also Patron of Special Olympics Australia, welcomed the athletes and their families, and thanked the Games volunteers.

She said: "Tonight we come together to celebrate our athletes' remarkable sporting talents and determination to give their very best. Special Olympics athletes, I know that each and every one of you will compete with strength, determination and courage.”

The Special Olympics 2013 Asia Pacific Games highlights on a global scale, the Special Olympics’ unique Model of Change in serving this group of people through combining sports for social change, good health for people with intellectual disabilities, and to foster inclusion.

* Photos and fact sheets can be downloaded from this Special Olympics Asia Pacific link. Please credit as per file names as the Official Photographers are volunteers.
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