With a roar of applause and amidst the strains of funky music, the Special Olympics Victoria Winter State Games were declared officially open. 

The winter half of the State Games were held at Casey Fields in Melbourne’s south east over the weekend of 6-7 July and saw 350 athletes from 12 clubs across Victoria compete in basketball, bocce, gymnastics, netball and table tennis. 

The proud athletes streamed into the stadium behind their team flags as part of the opening ceremony, to the cheers of family and friends who had braved the cold to watch. 

Special Olympics Australia is a sporting competition for people with intellectual disability/autism. It’s part of the global Special Olympics movement of over four million athletes competing across more than 30 Olympic-type sports in 177 countries and jurisdictions. 

A powerful opening ceremony 

A highlight of the weekend’s Opening Ceremony was the completion of the Victorian Law Enforcement Torch Run. The Torch Run is led by police officers known as the Guardians of the Flame. It helps raise awareness and significant funds for the Special Olympics and its associated programs. Carried by athletes and police officers, the torch is used to light the aptly named Flame of Hope, an Olympics-style cauldron that burns throughout the games.  

The Opening Ceremony also featured a powerful, emotional speech by athlete Steven White recognizing volunteer Moira Ryde OAM, who has served as a volunteer with the Special Olympics for over 35 years.  

“She’s always been here for all of us. If she’s not here in front of you, she’s behind the scenes,” White told the crowd. 

“If it wasn’t for Moira, I wouldn’t be here.” 

White also thanked all the volunteers and parents involved in the games who supported the athletes in their dreams and goals. 

In a speech given at the ceremony, Victoria Police Deputy Secretary Karl Kent recognised the important work of the Special Olympics in providing an inclusive space. 

“As we gather here today at Casey Fields, we witness the power sport has in bringing people together. And you can feel the energy from our athletes standing here, keen to progress,” he said. 

“We are united in our commitment to create a more inclusive, supportive society. I encourage all of you to embrace this camaraderie and let’s celebrate the remarkable ability of these athletes and remember that our collective efforts truly make a difference.” 

The Summer State Games will be held in September. 

Polar Plunge 

The next event on the Special Olympics calendar is the Polar Plunge which will take place around the country on 3 and 4 August. The Melbourne event on 3 August will see participants dive into the wintery waters of Port Phillip Bay to raise money for the Special Olympics. 

Registrations are still open; sign up at the Polar Plunge website

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