Ministers launch Special Olympics Ireland Winter Games

Date published: 05 February 2020

The Special Olympics Ireland Winter Games is coming north for the first time ever.

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Left to Right: Education Minister Peter Weir MLA, Ulster athletes Stephen Kennedy, Lloyd Clarke and Lucy Best, Communities Minister Deirdre Hargey MLA

At the official launch today Communities Minister Deirdre Hargey MLA was joined by her Ministerial colleague Education Minister Peter Weir MLA to wish the 23 Ulster athletes every success for representing Special Olympics Ulster in the Games.

This Special Olympics event will be a highlight for athletes across Ireland, with many experiencing a first opportunity to compete at a national level. 180 athletes, their coaches, families, officials and 200 volunteers will arrive for the three day Winter Games from Friday 20 to Sunday 22 March 2020. Athletes will compete in two sports; Alpine Skiing and Floorball. Skiing will take place at Craigavon Golf & Ski Centre and Floorball at Lagan Valley Leisureplex.

A Torch Run event will start proceedings with members of the Police Service of NI and An Garda Síochána prior to the Opening Ceremony on the Friday evening.

Sports Minister Deirdre Hargey MLA thanked Special Olympics Ireland and in particular the Ulster Branch for all the hard work they have done in bringing the Games here. She said: “We are looking forward to welcoming the athletes, their families, the coaches, officials and volunteers from across the island to what I hope will be the best Winter Games yet.

“Hosting the Winter Games is a marvellous opportunity for everyone to experience at first hand the excellent work of Special Olympics in providing year-round opportunities to take part in different sports on a weekly basis.  Special Olympics plays a very important role in the lives of all its athletes, their families and their communities.”

Education Minister Peter Weir added: “I welcome that Northern Ireland has been chosen to host the 2020 Special Olympics Ireland Winter games for the first time.

“The important link between sport and education can never be under-estimated. Special Olympics Ireland offers opportunities for adults and children to compete and participate across multiple sports as well as helping people to achieve their personal best.

“I send my best wishes to all the athletes who will be taking part in the games. Special Olympics changes lives for the better and through team work new friendships will be formed, new skills will be learnt and everyone will be a winner.”

Matt English, CEO, Special Olympics Ireland said: “We truly value the very significant support received over a number of years from the Department of Communities, Department of Education, Department of Health and co-ordinated through Sport NI.  The vital funding provided sustains a very strong and continually developing Special Olympics programme in Northern Ireland.”

“This is a very exciting time for the Ulster region, as they prepare to host the Special Olympics Ireland Winter Games for the first time. It’s an important milestone for our local Team Ulster athletes, who are looking forward to competing in their home territory in both Lisburn and Craigavon. We will be counting on lots of home support to give a warm Ulster welcome to athletes from right across Ireland and make these Games a great success and experience for all involved.”

Notes to editors: 

  1. Annual funding from the NI Executive is approximately £600k and is co-funded by the Department for Communities, Department of Health and the Department of Education. Vital financial support is provided to support volunteer development, health and wellbeing, participation in sport right up to international competition, personal development, inclusion and getting people more active.
  2. The 4-year funding cycle ends in March 2020. A new 4-year Business Case has been developed by Special Olympics which is currently being evaluated by Departmental Economists. Support to Special Olympics has been ongoing since 2009.
  3. The athletes will also be able to avail of a Healthy Athlete Screening Programme and participate in other health related activities throughout the weekend as well as having some leisure time with light entertainment provided.
  4. The mission of Special Olympics Ireland is "to provide year-round sports training and athletic competition in a variety of Olympic-type sports for children and adults with an intellectual disability, giving them continuing opportunities to develop physical fitness, demonstrate courage, experience joy and participate in a sharing of gifts, skills and friendships with their families, other Special Olympics athletes and the community.”
  5. People can join Special Olympics Ulster (SOU) from the age of 6 years and can take part in competition from the age of 8 years.  There is no upper age limit.  Competition is not for all participants, so the focus is on participation and helping every athlete achieve their personal best.  Delivery of SOU’s extensive programme of activities is heavily dependent on the time, energy, commitment and enthusiasm of volunteers.
  6. Media enquiries to DFC Press Office on 02890823516 or email: Out of office hours please contact the Duty Press Officer on 028 9037 8110.
  7. Follow us on twitter @CommunitiesNI


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