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The city of Nagano has been selected as the host of the 2005 Special Olympics Winter Games, making it the first Asian city to serve as the venue for the quadrennial event, organizers announced Friday.

Kayoko Hosokawa, chairwoman of Special Olympics Nippon and the 2005 Special Olympics World Winter Games Committee, said that since the event is not well known in Japan, it will be a prime opportunity to spread the volunteer spirit and awareness of the group’s activities throughout the country and to raise awareness around Asia.

The Special Olympics showcase athletes with mental disabilities who compete in a wide range of sporting competitions and are held every four years in the summer and winter, as with the Olympic Games. The 2003 Special Olympics, to be held in Ireland in June that year, will be the first time they are held outside the United States.

“In Japan, people tend to feel pity for people with mental retardation, that they cannot do anything by themselves. But I believe that the public will be able to understand, respect, and accept them through our activities,” Hosokawa said.

Hosokawa explained that the Special Olympics are different from the mainstream Olympic and Paralympic Games because they divide athletes into several groups according to their age, sex, and ability so every athlete is able to participate in every game.

The Special Olympics provide sports training programs throughout the year for people with mental disabilities.

The games began when Eunice Kennedy Shriver, a sister of former U.S. President John F. Kennedy, started a summer day camp in their backyard in 1963.

The first international Special Olympics Games were held in Chicago in July 1968, and Special Olympics was incorporated the same year as Special Olympics Inc.

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