The countdown has begun for the Special Olympics, World Winter Games, which are set to kick off in Kazan, Russia in one year.
More than 2,000 athletes with intellectual disabilities from over 100 countries will compete.
Kazan jumped in to host the games at the last minute after Sweden pulled out due to financial reasons – a controversial decision given that Russia is currently serving a ban from all major sporting events.
In December, Russia’s ban was reduced to two years from four by the Court of Arbitration for Sport after its anti-doping agency was declared non-compliant for manipulating laboratory data handed over to investigators in January 2019.
”We are as a country ready for a bigger message on inclusion and as Special Olympics International is not a signatory of the World Anti Doping Code, therefore we were in a good place to come to Russia with the World Games,” Natalia Vodianova, an international Russian-born model and member of Special Olympics International Board of Directors, told Euronews.
“My younger sister Oksana was born with an intellectual disability. There is a lot of misunderstanding and a lot of miscommunication about the abilities of people with special needs. Therefore, I hope that the world Games will bring more clarity and break some stigmas around possibilities and opportunities for people with special needs like my sister,” she added.
After hosting the World Aquatics Championships in 2015 and the FIFA World Cup three years later, Kazan is no stranger to big events.
Founded in 1968, the Special Olympics is a global movement aimed at ending discrimination against people with intellectual disabilities. It offers more than 30 Olympic-type sports and over 100,000 games and competitions every year.
Special Olympics Russia, which has been active for more than two decades, has 128 thousand athletes taking part in sports and competitions across the country.
But this represents just 4% of the estimated three million people with intellectual disabilities in Russia, and Vodianova is hoping the Special Olympics winter games coming to the country will mean more people can benefit from the initiative in the future.