DUBLIN – Japanese sports officials who attended the summer Special Olympics for the mentally impaired in the Irish capital last month are determined to make a success of the winter Special Olympics to be held in Nagano in 2005.
Yutaka Yamamoto, public relations chief of the Nagano Special Olympics organizing committee, said, “There is still a tendency in Japan not to recognize the existence of the mentally handicapped. It’s natural for the people of a civilized country to coexist with such people. We want to make the Nagano Games an occasion for that in Japan.”
Japan sent its largest-ever delegation of athletes, officials and observers to Dublin to learn as much as possible in preparation for the Nagano Games, which will be the first Special Olympics to be held in Asia. Nagano hosted the Winter Olympics in 1998.
The Special Olympics began in the United States in the 1960s, and Summer and Winter Games have been held every four years. Competition is not regarded with the same importance as in the Paralympics for the physically disabled, the organizers said.
Athletes and teams with roughly the same ability, determined in advance screenings, compete, and all participants stand on the winner’s platform after the event.
The Special Olympics enable mentally impaired people, whose lives are often confined to living with their families and traveling to nursing or training facilities, to experience an entirely different world, the organizers said.
The Dublin Games drew about 10,000 athletes and officials from some 160 countries and territories. Ireland regarded the games as the biggest-ever sports and cultural event held in the country, and some 30,000 volunteers — almost 1 percent of the country’s population — helped to manage the event.
Takanori Wakaomi, former president of the Nagano Junior Chamber of Commerce and Industry, who went to Dublin to observe the games, said: “The core of the Winter Olympics in Nagano was the government and professional event managers, but the Special Olympics’ core is volunteers. Volunteers trained at the Nagano Olympics should be efficiently used at the Nagano Special Olympics.”
The same skiing and skating venues used for the Nagano Olympics will be used for the Special Olympics, a first in Special Olympics history. About 3,500 athletes and coaches are expected to participate.
The organizing committee plans to invite 10,000 volunteers and begin public relations activities soon, including fundraising.
There are only about 3,000 active mentally disabled athletes in Japan, because of a shortage of volunteers to help them, committee officials said.