The program, formally known as “Host Town,” embodies the Special Olympics spirit of unity and exemplifies our community-building mission by creating opportunities for our athletes to become immersed within Greek culture, and in turn, for the people of Greece to share in the excitement and anticipation of the Games with our athletes and coaches.
From July 20-24, more than 9,000 athletes and coaches from nearly 170 countries are scattered throughout Greece and its beautiful islands including Cyprus, Crete and Rhodes for the Host Town festivities. On June 23rd, a delegation of Special Olympics Board Members, supporters and Program leaders, led by Special Olympics Chairman and CEO Timothy Shriver and President and COO Brady Lum visited the island of Rhodes, where they were graciously welcomed by delegations from Australia, Canada, Cote d’Ivoire, France, Haiti, Ireland, Israel, Jamaica, Japan, New Zealand, Norway, Poland, Sweden, Thailand and the United States in a medieval castle on the north side of the Island, known as “Old Town Rhodes.” Rhodes Mayor Stathis Koursournas and Regional Governor of the Southern Aegean Giannis Mahgridis welcomed the visiting delegation, and celebrated the arrival of the Flame of Hope, carried by volunteers in the Law Enforcement Torch Run.
“In an era where consciousness seems to be in collapse, athletes of Special Olympics are fighting for acceptance,” said Governor Mahgridis, “they are strong, participating, and are establishing their position in society. In the Special Olympics, all participants are winners as they gain our respect for diversity and conquer their struggle for recognition.”
Mayor Kousournas extended a warm welcome to the Special Olympics delegation: “I am full of emotion, pride and honor. I am proud because Rhodes embraces the athletes of Special Olympics and their organizers; emotional, because Rhodes has a tradition of sport and recreation; and honored to host the athletes of Special Olympics and celebrate their spirit of volunteerism.” Mr. Kousournas also declared Shriver an honorary citizen of Rhodes.
Special Olympics International Board Member Jay Emmett gave tribute to Special Olympics founder Eunice Kennedy Shriver in his keynote address. “Mrs. Shriver had the vision to see all those years ago that human potential reached much further than we ever thought. Special Olympics has become the world’s largest public health organization for people with intellectual disabilities, providing access to free health services for a population with many unmet health needs. The Movement is transforming attitudes and eradicating prejudices around the world.”
Over 100 volunteer law enforcement officers and Special Olympics athletes, known officially as “Guardians of the Flame,” have brought Special Olympics’ symbol of unity and hope, the Flame of Hope, around Europe and through hundreds of communities in Greece. Adam Hayes, Special Olympics Maryland athlete and a member of the Law Enforcement Torch Run (LETR) exclaimed, “When I run, I feel like I am an equal with the LETR officers. Our athletes can achieve as much in anything as anyone else, if they are given the chance.”
The Host Town Program in Rhodes, like hundreds of others throughout Greece, came about through the dedication of local volunteers and tourism organizations, the city of Rhodes and the Dodecanese prefecture. Charalmpos Palogiannidis, General Manager of the Rhodos Tourism Promotional Organization arranged meals, hotel rooms and events for nearly 1,800 athletes staying on the island. “The program has taken the hard work of the organizing committee,” said Palogiannidis, “but we are very proud.”
“When we talk about community-building,” said Shriver, “many people wonder what that means. Here in Rhodes, the Host Town program perfectly captures the authentic communities we work to create. Mayors, governors and civic clubs have joined together in Rhodes to welcome nearly 1,800 athletes with open arms. As one Deputy Mayor explained, ‘I’m in to Special Olympics for the rest of my life!’”