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Athletes assured of a happy environment
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Shanghai will do its best to create a happy environment for athletes participating in the Special Olympics World Summer Games, a top city official told the heads of delegations from 164 nations and regions yesterday.

During the first head of delegation meeting held in the city yesterday, Mayor Han Zheng said: "As the host city, we will spare no effort to create the right conditions for the special athletes to display their courage and skills, and to enjoy their participation in the Games."

The Games comes ahead of the 2008 Beijing Olympics and Paralympics, and has attracted more than 10,000 athletes with intellectual disabilities from around the world. The nation is seeking to enhance respect and care for the weakest members of its society.

Tang Xiaoquan, vice-president of the China Disabled Persons' Federation, said there are about 83 million people with various disabilities in China, including 9.84 million mentally disadvantaged individuals.

"People with intellectual disabilities are receiving more care, respect and assistance from the government and society," Tang said. "Their difficulties in daily life, rehabilitation, education and entertainment are being resolved."

The number of Chinese Special Olympics athletes has grown from 50,000 in 2000 to the current 620,000.

In Shanghai, 240 "Sunshine Homes" have been set up since 2005, providing a community rehabilitation center in every suburb.

"The Special Olympics has totally changed my life. I used to spend most of my time either at home or school, Ye Shihua, who will take part in the handball competition, said.

"It has brought me happiness, enriched my life and an opportunity to make new friends. I will do my best at the Games Ye said in address to delegates.

The delegation heads, each accompanied by a liaison officer, commented positively on China's efforts in holding the Games, especially the Host Town Program that started on Friday.

"The community program has been outstanding. We had the opportunity yesterday to visit a special education school in Hangzhou and it's overwhelming," Jennifer Bent-Richard, delegation head of Canada, said. "We have been to several Special Olympics Games but never had the opportunity to have training sessions with athletes from another country. For our athletes it is life changing."

The delegation heads also praised the efficiency and dedication of the event's steering committee.

"All requests have been swiftly and quickly attended to. We fell in love with this city within the first hour of our arrival," Bent-Richard said.

Saroba Aurora, heading a delegation of 32 members from Uruguay, was of a similar view. "Shanghai is a nice, beautiful city, and the people are passionate and amiable. Despite the long flight our tiredness disappeared immediately because of the excellent reception we received."

The delegation heads called for more partnerships with China in promoting the Special Olympics movement.

"China has provided Canada an opportunity to know its country and people, we hope we can do the same for China, the Special Olympics is a good starting point," Bent-Richard said.

"In Canada, it was not that long ago when individuals with intellectual disabilities were cast aside. Today, they are equal members of society. All countries go through that phase. China has a lot to look forward to."

(China Daily October 1, 2007)

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