Olympic Winter Games for mentally disabled opens in South Korea

PYEONGCHANG, South Korea (AFP) - Around 2,300 mentally disabled athletes from around the world gathered in South Korea on Tuesday for the opening of the 2013 Special Olympics World Winter Games.

After swearing an oath which states, "Let me win. But if I cannot win, let me be brave in the attempt", participants from more than 100 countries will take part in eight sports including alpine skiing, snowboarding, figure skating and speed skating.

Under the slogan "Together we can", the eight-day event kicked off at an ice rink in Pyeongchang - venue for the 2018 Winter Olympics - 180km east of the capital Seoul.

Myanmar's opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi said at the opening that the Games were not to celebrate sports but "the supremacy of the human spirit over everything else".

"The disabled ones are not those who are suffering, but those who do not care for the suffering," she said.

"My dream is very simple. I'd like my country to be able to contribute towards something that will change the world into a better place. I want to give my people an opportunity to prove that they can give to the world."

Chairman and CEO of the Special Olympics Timothy Perry Shriver said in a speech at the event: "The message is quite simple. The message is that everybody has the spirit, we just have to let it out. Everybody has a heart... and we just have to not be afraid to let it out."

The Games are aimed at helping people with intellectual disabilities find new strengths and abilities through sport, and to inspire communities to "open their hearts to a wider world of human talents and potential", organisers said.

The Special Olympics have been held every two years since 1968, with Summer and Winter Games alternating since the introduction of the winter edition in 1977.

Anyone over the age of eight with intellectual disabilities can take part in the Special Olympics.

The top three finishers in each event are awarded medals but organisers do not tally up national hauls.

On the sidelines of the World Winter Games, Pyeongchang will also stage a series of cultural events and international conferences.

Suu Kyi will be a keynote speaker at a summit on Wednesday to discuss the urgent needs of intellectually handicapped people under the banner "ending the cycle of poverty and exclusion for people with intellectual disabilities".

The Special Olympics movement was founded by the late Eunice Kennedy Shriver, a younger sister of former US President John F. Kennedy. Timothy Shriver is her son.

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