Athletes descend on Sint-Niklaas and Beveren for Belgium’s Special Olympics


The national event brings together 3,400 athletes with intellectual disabilities to compete in 20 sports ranging from judo to sailing

Social inclusion

Belgium’s Special Olympics, for athletes with intellectual disabilities, has been taking place this week in Flanders. More than 3,400 athletes were expected to take part in 20 sporting disciplines, supported by 1,200 coaches and 1,800 volunteers.

The games opened on Wednesday with 200 runners accompanying the Flame of Hope from Beveren to Sint-Niklaas in East Flanders. This was followed by an opening ceremony on the town’s main square, in the presence of Princess Astrid and Prince Lorenz. The games close on Saturday evening with a party in Beveren.

This is the 37th edition of the national Special Olympics, which celebrates its 40th anniversary as an organisation this year. The Special Olympics began in the US in 1968 as a counterpart of the Paralympics, which involves people with physical disabilities.

Compete together

Competition events ranged from swimming and cycling to judo and gymnastics. The Special Olympics also promotes events where athletes with and without disabilities compete together, from football and netball to badminton and sailing.

“More than supporting athletes with an intellectual handicap, we want to work on social inclusion,” explains Zehra Sayin, chief executive of Special Olympics Belgium. “That means getting people to come and support them, and also to participate.”

Meanwhile, tryouts took place for sports new to the Special Olympics, such as baseball, golf, rugby, karate and yoga.

A number of celebrities took part in the games, including the Red Flames, the Belgian women’s football team. Star player Tessa Wullaert (pictured) – a Belgian Special Olympics ambassador – presented a cheque for €1,251 raised through sales of a special collection produced by Flemish fashion brand Topwijf.

Photo © SOB2019