LIMERICK’S hosting of the Special Olympics which has generated an estimated €10 million for the local economy proves that the city is capable of staging “a world event not just a national event” according to the chief executive of the Games.
A total of 1,500 Special Olympic athletes from all over Ireland received a hero’s welcome in the city on Thursday before taking part in competitions in 14 sports on Friday, Saturday and Sunday.
Over the course of three days, some 2,200 medals were handed out to athletes.
“I didn’t think 2010 could be improved on but I think 2014 was better for all kinds of reasons,” smiled Matt English, CEO, Special Olympics Ireland this Wednesday - his voice hoarse from all the talking over the “marathon” weekend.
The Special Olympics Ireland Games take place once every four years. Limerick hosted the Games in 2010 and made history this year by hosted them back-to-back.
“There is no doubt that we will be under pressure to go to Belfast or Dublin for the next Games or another location but I can honestly say that Limerick can hold any event - and I’m talking about a world, not just a national event. It was absolutely outstanding,” continued Mr English. “The people of Limerick really embraced it. The atmosphere was unbelievable. The whole thing from start to finish was outstanding.”
The Games began with a parade through the city which was led by the 40 man Special Olympics Torch Run Team made up of members of the Gardai and PSNI. This was followed by a “spectacular” opening ceremony in the People’s Park. “We took a slight gamble on the weather but we were repaid in spades. It was absolutely fantastic,” said Mr English. “We had visitors from Trinidad and Tobago and from the UK. I know there were people from Special Olympics Canada as well.”
In 2010, Special Olympics Ireland and Shannon Development commissioned a study to assess the economic and social impact of the Games held in Limerick. The study was independently conducted by Focus Consulting and found that the total economic impact of the 2010 event was €9.95 million.
“I would say it is at least the same again,” said Mr English this week. The cost of the Games, he said, was in region of €2 million.
“We are so grateful that so many businesses gave us what we call value-in-kind - their product or services for free. That certainly reduces the cost for us.”
“On the wall of appreciation there are about 150 different companies who have contributed. Obviously, the big names are Eircom, as premier sponsor. Dell provided all the computers, developed an app and gave us their warehouse. The likes of Pallas Foods provided so much of the food - the list is long.”
Sports ambassadors including rugby legends, Keith Wood, David Wallace, Alan Quinlan, Marcus Horan, Barry Murphy and Anthony Foley were just some of the famous faces who turned out to cheer on the athletes over the weekend. As well as being the main residential centre, UL hosted many of the main events.
While there were a number of “standout moments”, Sunday, Father’s Day, was “special” according to Mr English. “To see so many fathers going around with sons or daughters in their hands, absolutely proud of them with their medals was great. Our sincere thanks to everyone - the volunteers and everyone who helped us.”