Hundreds of athletes from across the country gathered in Polokwane, Limpopo at the weekend to compete in this year’s National Special Olympics South Africa Summer Games.
Founded in 1991, Special Olympics South Africa provides sports training and competitions for adults and children with intellectual disabilities.
During the national games, athletes competed against each other in athletics, aquatics, basketball, boccie, football, futsal, netball, table tennis and ten-pin bowling.
Besides the action on the pitch at the Peter Mokaba Stadium during the three-day event, there was also a health screening and education campaign.
Competing athletes were screened by medical practitioners as part of the Special Olympics Healthy Athletes program. These screenings help to alert medical practitioners to identify potential health issues in the athletes and help to train medical professionals on how to treat people with intellectual disabilities.
“Special Olympics as an organisation focuses on athletes with an intellectual disability. Many of these athletes will never get an opportunity like this. Our special needs schools and centres are just not good enough to offer the sporting competition that they deserve. And so, for these athletes, this is life-changing,” says Special Olympics South Africa CEO Ancilla Smith.
“Many of them have never left their homes. They’ve travelled for the very first time to another province. They’re competing in a world-class stadium with incredible facilities, which many of them have never been exposed to.”
Athletes and teams selected at the national games will move on to represent the country at the 2023 Special Olympics World Games in Berlin, Germany.
“At the World Games, we compete against 180 countries with over 7,000 athletes. So, it’s an incredible honour for these athletes to be chosen to represent South Africa,” says Smith.