There was no shortage of amazing fans at the Special Olympics World Games Berlin 2023 and each day, fans and family members were able to join in the spirit of the Games helping to support and uplift all those competing. One group of fans who had a particular impact on the Games were the 200+ Irish supporters and volunteers who traveled from Ireland and all over the world to be in Germany to support their friends, family and athletes from Special Olympics Ireland. The number of Irish individuals attending World Games was so vast that the Irish Ambassador to Germany, Dr. Nicholas O’Brien, invited the whole party and Special Olympics (SO) Ireland athletes to his home to welcome them to Berlin.
From the opening ceremony to the closing ceremony, Irish fans were in the thick of it as they traveled in packs to make sure their presence was seen and felt by all. At the opening ceremony, the sea of green was easy to spot amongst the crowded stands of Olympiastadion.
Throughout the Games, you could see the Irish fans as they made their way from venue to venue to support their respective sports and athletes while also attending dozens of other competitions in which there were no SO Ireland athletes competing.
SO Ireland’s 7-a-side football team played a series of 5 matches from 18-21 June against SO Switzerland, SO Uganda, SO Hong Kong, SO Poland and SO Morocco, respectively. The team’s performance over the 5 games earned them a place in the gold medal match on 24 June where SO Ireland was set to replay SO Morocco. On the day of the final, the field was quickly engulfed by a sea of green as Irish fans came out in numbers to help cheer on SO Ireland in the 27°C heat.
The match between SO Ireland and SO Morrocco was a nailbiter as the Irish scored first to go up 1-0, but the Moroccans quickly came back with an equalizer to make it 1-1. In the second half, SO Morocco nabbed the lead after knocking in their second goal of the match (2-1). With less than 10 minutes left on the clock, SO Ireland gained momentum and made their way up the pitch to the Moroccan defensive third. The teams went back-and-forth with possession around the box, but an SO Ireland attacker’s shot made it past the SO Morocco goalkeeper making it 2-2.
The Irish fans could be heard throughout the game as they cheered on the athletes and helped give them encouragement while they faced a very competitive SO Moroccan side. With the sound of the final whistle, the score was still 2-2. The tie was broken using the goal differential statistics from the previous games that both teams played. SO Ireland earned gold because their goal differential was greater than SO Morrocco’s, meaning that SO Ireland scored more goals while allowing fewer goals against.
“Let me win. But if I cannot win, let me be brave in the attempt.”
Although defeated, the SO Morocco footballers joined hands and raised them over their heads as a sign of thanks to the fans who came to support them. The fans in return welcomed the athletes, giving them high-fives, hugs and words of encouragement for a job well done. The response from both the losing side and the fans of the winning side was unlike other sporting event; it was joyful and appreciative. The fans knew how much that moment meant to every single athlete who came to Berlin to compete, and they helped make sure that their effort and passion was recognized by all. It was a scene that completely embodied the Special Olympics athletes’ oath: “Let me win. But if I cannot win, let me be brave in the attempt.” Everyone in attendance could see that the Games, in that moment, were about much, much more than just winning.
Ireland has a long-standing relationship with the Special Olympics World Games as they hosted one of the most successful Special Olympics World Games in 2003 in Dublin and Belfast. The legacy of those World Games has impacted Special Olympics immensely. They set a standard for what each Games since has strived to meet and improve on. The World Games Ireland 2003 has had a longstanding positive impact on Ireland and its people, which was clearly visible exactly twenty years later in Berlin through the tremendous outpouring of support shown by the entire fan group throughout the Games.