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Promoting acknowledgement, confidence and participation through sports

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Questions and answers about the 2023 Special Olympic World Games Promoting acknowledgement, confidence and participation through sports

Germany is hosting the Special Olympic World Games for the first time, the world’s biggest sporting event for people with mental and multiple disabilities. From 17 to 25 June, 7,000 athletes from over 180 countries are coming together in Berlin and the surrounding region to compete for medals in 26 disciplines. 

6 min reading time

Runners competing for the top positions

The Special Olympics are held every two years, this time in Germany.

Photo: Special Olympics World Games

What are the Special Olympic World Games?

The Special Olympics movement was initiated in the USA in 1969 by Eunice Kennedy-Shriver, a sister of US President John F. Kennedy. More than five million athletes in 174 countries, as well as a million trainers and volunteers around the world make the Special Olympics the world’s biggest sports movement for people with mental and multiple disabilities. The movement is officially recognised by the International Olympic Committee (IOC).

The 2023 Special Olympic World Games are a unique opportunity for Germany to promote acknowledgement and participation of people with disabilities. In the long term, this is about unlimited access to all areas of community life: education, labour, healthcare, sports and culture.

The Federal Government and the State of Berlin each provide around 48 millions worth of funding for the 2023 Special Olympic World Games. The Federal Ministry of the Interior provides comprehensive information about the sporting event on its website. 

What are the goals of the Special Olympic movement?

The goal of Special Olympics is to help people with mental disabilities to enjoy greater recognition, confidence and ultimately a higher degree of participation in society. Special Olympics thinks of itself as a movement to promote inclusion.

How often do the Special Olympic World Games take place?

The Special Olympic World Games are the world’s biggest inclusive sporting event. The event is held every two years, alternating between summer and winter games.

The Special Olympic World Games are considered the world’s biggest inclusive sporting event. What does inclusion even mean?

Inclusion stems from the Latin word “includere” which means to make something part of something else. The term inclusion is therefore used to communicate that no human being must be excluded, discriminated against or disadvantages due to their age, religion, skin colour or a disability. Every human being has the right to equally participate in community life: for example in the workplace, in sports or at the theatre.

The Federal Government seeks to promote inclusion in sports. Sports bring people with and without disabilities together and help to enshrine the idea of self-determined, equal participation in people’s awareness. It is important to keep up this idea of sustainable, social participation of people with disabilities in our society also beyond this major sporting event, and to include and acknowledge these people and to guarantee their righteous place in society.

How does this differ from the Paralympic Games?

Unlike the Paralympic Games, the Special Olympic World Games are not for people with physical disabilities but for those with mental and multiple disabilities.

Will there be a torch relay?

The torch relay is a long-standing tradition of the Special Olympics. The “Special Olympics Flame of Hope” is lit in Athens in Greece on 7 June. Before its ceremonial arrival at the opening event, it is going to travel across Germany to get people excited about the upcoming event.

What are Unified Teams?

People with mental disabilities (athletes) and people without disabilities (partners) train together and take part in competitions in Unified Teams. Unified Teams are also taking part in the Special Olympic World Games.

How many athletes are representing Germany?

Germany is represented by 355 athletes and 59 Unified Partners. The athletes are accompanied by 133 trainers and further delegation members such as doctors and photographers in Berlin, so the German team has a total headcount of 547. The host nation therefore also has the biggest delegation at the World Games.

Where in Germany are the competitions held?

The competitions are held at eight different venues across Berlin’s districts (Mitte, Charlottenburg/Wilmersdorf, Steglitz-Zehlendorf, Pankow, Friedrichshain/Kreuzberg, Treptow/Köpenick) and in Bad Saarow. Competitions in various disciplines are taking place each day in Berlin and the surrounding region (in particular in the Olympic Park and the Berlin Trade Fair grounds).

What are the disciplines?

In addition to popular sports such as football, handball, basketball or track and field, competitions are also held in some less well-known disciplines such as futsal, powerlifting and rollerskating. Competitions are taking place in a total of 26 disciplines.

Further information about the venues, the different disciplines and many other aspects is available here:

When and where are the opening and closing ceremonies held?

The start of the games is marked by a ceremony held at the Olympic Stadium on 17 June 2023 under the patronage of Federal President Frank-Walter Steinmeier and with performances by well-known artists and the parade of all delegations. The end of the event will be marked with a party at the Brandenburg Gate on 25 June 2023, where achievements are celebrated and the participants can socialise and say goodbye.

Where can I buy tickets and how much are they?

Interested citizens are welcome to watch the competitions in the different disciplines live at the various venues and to cheer on the athletes.

  • Ticket prices for the opening ceremony start at 10 euros.
  • The price for a day pass for the competitions is 8 euros (6 euros for discounted tickets). A day pass is valid for a full day, for all disciplines and venues. Day passes for families cost 24 euros.
  • A pass for all competitions is also available (price: 24-32 euros). This all-round ticket allows you to see all disciplines at all venues over the eight days on which the competitions are held.

Some events such as cycling and sailing can be attended free of charge.

Tickets and further information are available here:

Are there any cultural events in addition to the athletic contests?

Not only sports fans but also culture enthusiasts will get their money’s worth. The Special Olympics Festival includes a wide range of stage events, hands-on and sporting activities for participants of the World Games and visitors to enjoy all across the city. Sports and cultural offerings are thus brought together. Further information is available here.

Do any other German towns benefit from this major sporting event?

More than 200 so-called “Host Towns” across Germany are going to welcome the international delegations of the Special Olympics World Games in the days before the competitions. This enables many towns and cities, communities and municipalities to participate in the event and to contribute to raising awareness and to improving the lives of people with mental disabilities on a lasting basis through sustainable community projects and inclusive networks. It also gives the delegations of the participating nations the unique opportunity to get to know our country.

What is the Global Forum for Inclusion all about?

An international inclusive conference with the involvement of the Federal Government is to be held on 17 and 18 June 2023. Important topics include social sustainability and participation, as well as the broader impact of social objectives. This first networked exchange among different stakeholders and people with mental disabilities is intended to provide impetus in society, Europe and the whole world. Planning provides for the Berlin Declaration to be signed at the conference, in which the nations agree to actively pursue promotion of people with mental disabilities through corresponding policies. Further information is available here.