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Last Updated: Friday, 28 September 2007, 16:21 GMT 17:21 UK
Athletes arrive for Special Games
Martin Conaghan
By Martin Conaghan in Shanghai

David James, Keith Wilcox and Lawrie McMenemy
David James, Keith Wilcox and Lawrie McMenemy saw the athletes off at Heathrow airport

Great Britain's team of athletes have arrived in Shanghai ahead of the Special Olympics World Summer Games which start on 2 October.

The 159-strong contingent, accompanied by their coaches and carers, touched down in China's largest city on Wednesday morning and immediately commenced a series of state-sponsored visits and rolling programmes.

For many of the athletes, the arrival in Shanghai was an exciting, if overwhelming experience; few have ventured out of their home towns and cities, and only a small handful have been this far east in their lifetime.

Nothing can prepare you for the sheer scale of the sprawling metropolis that is Shanghai, with its insanely busy roads, heaven-bound skyscrapers and masses of people pouring along the pavements.

The media hotel is located adjacent to the Olympic Stadium, an imposing 80,000-capacity venue where the opening ceremony and track events will be held.

"Because it isn't elite, it doesn't qualify for sport funding, but why shouldn't disadvantaged people get involved in sport?"

Lawrie McMenemy, Team GB chairman

Speaking ahead of the departure from London, Team GB chairman Lawrie McMenemy said he hoped awareness of the Special Olympics would continue to increase with the event being held in China.

"I want people to realise that this is a great experience for people who have family members with special needs, and for families with no problems to realise how lucky they are," said McMenemy.

"When I was asked to be involved in this about five years ago, like everyone else, I didn't realise there were three Olympic events, and I didn't know there was one specifically for people with learning disabilities.

"The public simply don't realise that there's plenty of opportunities for disadvantated kids to get involved in sport, or for their families to get out of the house and meet like-minded people, but you can see the levels of excitement and enthusiasm these kids have."

The former Southampton and Sunderland manager wished all of the athletes well in their endeavours, and dismissed the notion that the Special Olympics doesn't really count as a major sporting event.

"Because it isn't elite, it doesn't qualify for sport funding, but why shouldn't disadvantaged people get involved in sport?" added McMenemy.

"They like winning just the same as everyone else, but in the spirit of the Olympics ethos, it's the taking part which is important, especially for people who wouldn't normally be involved in something like this.

"I hope they come back with a few medals."

The Special Olympics opening ceremony will take place on 2 October. You can follow the preparations for Shanghai in a documentary on BBC2 Scotland on 3 October at 1900BST entitled Special Olympics: Scottish Stories which will also be available to view online.

Special athletes set for Shanghai
24 Sep 07 |  Disability Sport
Images from the Special Olympics
29 Sep 07 |  Disability Sport


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