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Let the World Games Berlin 2023 Commence!

A tunnel is full of delegations entering the stadium as they walk under a huge sculpture of colorful hands creating a heart shape.
Delegations enter Berlin’s iconic Olympiastadion during the Parade of Athletes at the Opening Ceremony of Special Olympics World Games Berlin 2023.

The Special Olympics World Games Berlin 2023 have officially begun with the Opening Ceremony held on 17 June 2023. Each World Games host city has a unique way of kicking off the most inclusive sporting event of the year and Berlin wove their theme #UnbeatableTogether though every aspect of the ceremony.

At the historic Olympiastadion, 176 delegations took part in the Parade of Athletes. Athlete representatives from each country brought water from their home nation to pour into a common pool in the middle of the stage to represent “Unity” the name of heart-shaped mascot. Walking close to the end of the Parade was the delegation from Ukraine who entered the stadium to a standing ovation.

In keeping with the Opening Ceremony theme, Special Olympics Board Chairman Timothy Shriver walked in with the delegation from South Sudan to support the athletes from countries facing fragile sociopolitical climates. On stage, Mr. Shriver celebrated the current moment when athletes, coaches, officials, volunteers and supporters could come together after a global pandemic and honor the spirit of the Games. He said, “Few things are more inhumane than humans being separated from other human beings.

Timothy Shriver stands with the outgoing class of Sargent Shriver International Global Messengers.
Timothy Shriver stands with the outgoing class of Sargent Shriver International Global Messengers.

The outgoing class of Sargent Shriver International Global Messengers (SSIGMs) took the opportunity to both entertain and uplift the crowd. SSIGM Hanna Joy Atkinson and NBA legend Dirk Nowitzki introduced the speaking portion of the evening. SSIGM Emmanuelle Dutra Fernandes de Souza’s words reminded everyone that “we need to show the world that people with disabilities deserve the same rights as everyone else.” 

The Flame of Hope that traveled from Athens from Berlin by members of the Law Enforcement Torch Run (LETR) was brought into the stadium by Torch Runner Arthur Huizer, an officer from the Netherlands and Special Olympics USA athlete Lewis Fancher. They handed it off to a relay comprised of the seven athletes and Unified pairs from each of the seven Special Olympics Regions. The last leg was run by Special Olympics Germany athlete Sophie Rensmann who lit the cauldron. The Games were announced as officially open by German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier.

German athlete Sopie Rensmann holds torch as cauldron is lit.
Special Olympics Germany athlete Sophie Rensmann lights the flame at the Berlin 2023 Opening Ceremony.

Audience members, whether in the stands or watching from home, were invited to learn the official Games song and dance performed by Norwegian rap duo Madcon. The song “Are You Ready” got 50,000 spectators on their feet. Other performers included singer/songwriter and Special Olympics Global Ambassador Erika Ender singing the song “Everyone Matters” that she wrote specifically for Special Olympics athletes. Fans were treated to a finale featuring the Blue Man Group that culminated with a light show and fireworks.

In the largest Special Olympics Opening Games broadcast in history, the three-hour ceremony was televised by ESPN on ABC in the United States while 11 media partners in Germany joined in a historic alliance to distribute it in German-speaking markets. Looking forward to the nine days of competition, EBU/Eurovision Sport, DAZN, Story 10, and others will join in providing World Games coverage to over 200 territories. Learn more about the broadcast coverage here.


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