The organizers have confirmed that joining Nelson Mandela at the opening of the world’s biggest sporting event this year will be boxing legend Muhammad Ali, film star Arnold Schwarzenegger and Special Olympics founder Eunice Kennedy Shriver, a sister for the late President John F. Kennedy.
The games will be the first ever held outside the United States, and judging by the public’s warm and enthusiastic reception, Ireland would seem to be the perfect choice to stage them.
As almost 7,000 athletes will parade in the stadium, entertainment will be provided for the expected 75,000 people in attendance by U2, the Corrs, Samantha Mumba and Riverdance. The master of ceremonies will be Patrick Kielty.
More than 30,000 volunteers are helping with the arrangements and team delegations have been staying in 177 host towns this week north and south of the border.
The first delegations of athletes with learning difficulties, their coaches, families and supporters to arrive in Ireland were from El Salvador, Nepal and Gabon.
The Olympic torch, which had been touring European cities since being lit in Athens, arrived in Bangor, Co. Down, from Britain last week and police officers from both sides of the border have been carrying it around the country.
Mary Davis, chief executive of the games, said she was delighted the SARS difficulties had been resolved and delegations from all the countries affected by the pneumonia-like illness are now coming.
Taiwan, the final country that had been facing a ban, offered to impose a quarantine arrangement in Thailand for its delegation. The Irish government’s expert group on SARS accepted to plan.
Davis said she was excited about the upcoming gala opening and proud of the huge amount of logistical work done by people in the runup to the games and arranging the extensive host towns program.
Each town involved has decorated buildings with the national colors of the team it is hosting. Schoolchildren have been learning about the countries involved. Interpreters are on call and advice has been sought on suitable food, special customs and any medical care that may be needed.
Davis also criticized pop impresario Louis Walsh, who said the games were “little more than an ego trip” for the organizers.
Walsh told the Irish Times recently people are not really interested in watching next week’s competitions and compared the competition to a state funeral.
“I think it is a real insult to the people of Ireland,” Davis told RTE. “These games aren’t organized by one person or any one group of people. There are more than 30,000 behind these games.”
“I have no idea why he [Walsh] ever chose to say that, but I think that the people will be very dismissive of it because it was such an insult to them.”
Walsh later issued a statement apologizing for his remarks and said it was never his intention to insult anyone.