This spring, Special Olympics Belgium welcomed the very first edition of the Virtual Games—a two-day digital event as a replacement for the traditional Summer National Games. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Belgian team was forced to cancel the in-person competition, but that didn’t stop their athletes from finding a way to compete!
On 21 May 2020, Special Olympics Belgium launched the Virtual Games. Almost 12,000 athletes entered the championship by competing in ten different challenges, two for each of the five selected disciplines (athletics, cycling, football, racket sports and swimming). Everyone was welcome to join in the Games and demonstrate their skills by simply uploading a video of their performance on social media.
Sports Champions get Onboard!
To launch the competition, the team released a video featuring five of the brightest stars from the sporting world to show the exercises the athletes would perform. Tennis champion Yanina Wickmayer, Olympic runner Dylan Borlée, 2016 Olympic road champion Greg Van Avermaet, Olympic swimmer Fanny Lecluyse and football coach Roberto Martínez were all very excited to take part in this project and helped spread the message of inclusion through their own social media platforms!
Tennis champion and old friend of the movement, Yanina Wickmayer expressed her joy in being involved in this initiative, “The athletes of Special Olympics miss the competition and the matches just like any other sportsman or sportswoman. I was delighted with the opportunity to do sports with Kristi and urge the other athletes to get active!”
Strength in Numbers
The level of engagement among athletes was outstanding. This innovative format has opened the door to new ideas and strategies to increase the involvement and participation of the athletes in future events, as its masterfully-managed online presence had a great resonance both in Special Olympics and in Belgium. The Virtual Games even gained a mention on Sporza, the national sports channel!
“11,696 athletes participated in the Special Olympics Belgium Virtual Games 2020. That’s three times the average number of athletes who take part in the National Games, for logistics reasons force us to limit the number at around 3,400.”
Much like every other competition, the Special Olympics Belgium Virtual Games 2020 concluded with a spectacular Closing Ceremony, where the athletes shared their virtual medals and danced to DJ Jack festive compilation! “We wish to flood social media with pictures of our virtual medals,” Zehra Sayin commented, “and we want to attract new athletes with intellectual disabilities. Our goal is to reach 20,000 registered athletes by the end of the year!”