By Vasilis Papoutsis
LOS ANGELES, CA – The World Summer Games, the flagship event for the Special Olympic movement, will take place in Los Angeles July 25-August 2. It will be the largest sporting and humanitarian event in the world in 2015, with 6,500 athletes from 165 countries and more than 2,000 coaches who have been preparing these athletes for 32 Olympic-type events. The World Games take place every two years and alternate between Summer and Winter Olympic Games, and they are back in Los Angeles for the first time since 1972.
The Opening Ceremony on July 25 will take place at the historic Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum, which also hosted the 1984 Olympic Games, and will be attended by First Lady Michelle Obama. Other celebrities attending will be Eva Longoria, Jimmy Kimmel, Stevie Wonder, and Olympic champion Michael Phelps.
The Special Olympic movement was founded in 1968 by Eunice Kennedy Shriver with the intent to become the global leader for people with intellectual disabilities. A movement that provides year-round training for athletes who can be transformed through the power of sports. The emphasis is to develop their physical fitness but most importantly to help them become more productive citizens by building their self-esteem, confidence, and courage. As valued members of their communities, these athletes can achieve their acceptance and inclusion.
In her opening remarks during the formal torch lighting ceremony on the Sacred Site of Pnyx, opposite the Acropolis in Athens, Olympic Hellas President Joanna Despotopoulou told the athletes that ”Hope is stronger than despair.” While she wished them best success at the games, she said ”we are confident you will make us proud and you will inspire us to hope again.”
Prior to their participation in the Games, our delegation will have the privilege of being the guests of the Woodland Hills/Reseda/Tarzana Host Town. It is one of the more than 100 communities across Southern California that will be hosting Olympic athletes. Diana Williams, CEO of the West Valley- Warner Center Chamber of Commerce, which organizes this effort, said that they have been working on this project enthusiastically since July 2014. She said that partnerships and sponsorships with chamber business members have made this opportunity possible. CSU Northridge, my alma mater, will provide housing accommodations to the athletes and Kaiser Permanente is sponsoring a concert, among others. While visiting the Hellenic delegation will participate in a Torch Run, have dinner with Olympic legend Rafer Johnson and attend a hip hop concert at Warner Park.
The Hellenic delegation is coming here while Greece is in the middle of an unprecedented financial crisis. In my conversation with Consul General of Greece Gregory Karahalios, he emphasized that in these hard times “we have to seek inside our glorious history and inside ourselves and find again the inspiration, the will and the force to rise and to show to the world why Greece is not just another problematic country, but it still maintains all those characteristics that made it capable to become for centuries a beacon of art, culture and civilization for the whole world.” Of course, one of our proudest achievements was hosting the 2004 Athens Olympics, and even though it feels like a distant memory now, it was a demonstration of our Hellenic spirit and resolve. After all, ”the Olympic Ideals represent one of our most important legacies Greece has left to the world and our athletes are here to remind us that we should never give up,” as our Consul General reminds us.
I am confident that that the Greek-American community in Los Angeles will do whatever is possible to make the Greek delegation feel at home, and support them passionately on their competitions.