Since the pandemic struck in 2020, Special Olympics teams across Europe have looked for alternative ways to provide athletes with the training and support at home. Although 2021 is slowly leading us back to normalcy, restrictions and are still in place to protect and secure our athletes’ health. Thus, many programmes in Europe launched a new version of their virtual games!
Special Olympics Belgium Virtual Games
14 May 2021 marked the opening of the second edition of the Special Olympics Belgium Virtual Games! Athletes, coaches, volunteers and supporters were all invited to compete in the 11 sports disciplines offered. President, Piet Steel appeared on screen to salute the almost 8,000 athletes, Unified partners, coaches and friends of the movement who participated in the online training sessions.
"After being at home for a long time and training online, it was great to be able to work out with other people. It was exciting to take part in the Virtual Games and also great fun—it was a fantastic idea of Special Olympics Belgium to organise this!"
At the end of the day, 1,000 medals were delivered to the winners all over Belgium! Both national media and social media covered the event extensively and overall it reached more than 58 million people.
Special Olympics Hellas Virtual Games
Athletes had a whole new way to stay active and motivate each other this year! Following safety protocols and their coach’s guidance, Special Olympics Hellas welcomed the 2021 Virtual Games—a series of small competitions adapted for the digital context. 171 athletes from 14 different areas in Greece challenged each other in five different sports disciplines: bowling, static cycling, indoor rowing, basketball and athletics. At the end of each game, the ranking with the final scores was published and the medals awarded to the participants.
The Special Olympics Hellas Virtual Games were broadcast live on Facebook and reached more than 20,000 people, gaining awareness and visibility for our athletes' incredible efforts!
Special Olympics Ireland Virtual Competitions
As soon as 2021 kicked off, Special Olympics Ireland wasted no time in launching the Virtual Competitions—a digital training and engagement activity divided into two waves and lasting throughout the year. Wave 1, which started in January and was developed with the help of volunteers, focused on events and training sessions in sports that could easily and safely be practised at home such as football, athletics, gymnastics and motor activities. For Wave 2 new events in athletics, motor activities, bocce, bowling, golf and basketball were introduced. The incredible success of Wave 1—which saw 665 athletes signing up—almost doubled for Wave 2, with over 1,000 athletes registering for the competitions!
After signing up online, athletes submitted video footage of their performances and were then scored by coaches and staff of Special Olympics Ireland.
The award ceremony also took place online, with a video montage of the best performances and messages from special guests such as former Irish football international player Robbie Keane, national television Sports Broadcaster Jacqui Hurley, and Managing Director of Special Olympics Europe Eurasia David Evangelista.
Special Olympics Netherlands Digital Games
The 2021 National Games also went digital!
During the weekend of 12 – 13 June, over 2000 athletes gathered online to join digital clinics and workshops and honed their sporting skills on the field—where guidelines allowed for local training.
On Saturday, the Disco Bingo Dance Along—a game of bingo where the cards required the athletes to perform iconic dances such as YMCA and the Macarena—pushed the participants to show their best dances moves. On Sunday, the Orange EuroCup football clinic took place to improve and refresh football skills in anticipation of Netherlands’ Euro 2020 match against Ukraine!
“My son hasn’t been able to judo for more than a year, so it’s fantastic that he’s back on the tatami,” says mother of Jasper—a judo competitorfrom Special Olympics Netherlands. “Even though it’s not a regular National Games, it’s great to be here and the organisation has done a great job!”
It wasn’t just local media who showed a keen interest in covering the Digital Games, national outlets such as De Telegraaf and ESPN Netherlands also promoted the success of the event on their platforms!
Special Olympics Italy Smart Games 2.1
Following the success of last year’s Smart Games, Special Olympics Italy hosted a new and improved version of their national digital games starting in July 2021. The Games are a response to the burning desire to offer the athletes a chance to compete again, regardless of the physical distance.
Over the span of two weeks, athletes will compete in 19 sports disciplines: athletics, badminton, basketball, bocce, bowling, football, canoeing, karate, gymnastics, golf, swimming, snowshoeing, rugby, alpine skiing, cross-country skiing, snowboarding, tennis and table tennis.
The sports challenges are posed by the coaches of Special Olympics Italy, who have designed a series of exercises and skills that the athletes will access through their computers and perform either from their bedrooms or outdoors – respecting the safety measures in place in the territory.
More than 3,000 athletes have already signed up for the challenge, along with 475 partners and 300 coaches.
When asked what she was expecting from this new edition of the Smart Games, athlete and torchbearer of the Smart Games 2.1 Miriam Molinaro replied, “I expect to reach the goals I have set for myself, as I know everyone participating in the Smart Games does. I am always very determined and I know my goals are there waiting for me to achieve them!”