IPOH: After months of failing to get any help locally, 20 athletes from the Special Olympics Malaysia squad sought the assistance of a foreign airline to help fund their airfares.
And much to their relief, Royal Brunei Airlines agreed to sponsor half the airfares to enable the athletes to participate in the 2007 Special Olympics World Summer Games in Shanghai next month.
Special Olympics Malaysia chairman Joseph Lau Tee Sun said it would be the first time that Malaysia would be represented in the international event on merit, as its previous participation was by invitation only.
“A country can only officially take part in the World Special Olympics after hosting its own national Special Olympics games, which we did last year in Kota Kinabalu,” he added.
Lau, a Taiping municipal councillor, said he was deeply disappointed that no state or federal agency he approached was willing to sponsor even a “fraction” of expenses. Even Malaysia Airline turned down his request for assistance.
The total expenses for the trip works out to RM150,000, including food, accommodation, training and sports attire. Eight coaches and two officials will accompany the athletes.
“Since early this year, I couriered and faxed letters to the Youth and Sports Ministry, the Education Ministry and the Women, Family and Community Development Ministry,” he said, adding that only the Youth and Sports Ministry sent a letter dated Aug 8 stating that it had no funds.
Lau felt that the lack of interest on the part of the authorities here could be due to a lack of awareness on the sporting event.
“People think the Special Olympics is just a telematch, but it is much more than that. Almost 7,500 athletes from 165 countries will be competing,” he added.
To cut costs, Lau said the contingent would rent batik shirts from Terengganu for the opening parade and formal events.
The athletes, aged between 15 and 28, will compete in athletics, bowling and bocce (a precision sport closely related to bowls) at the games scheduled from Oct 2 to 11.
American Eunice Kennedy Shriver founded the Special Olympics World Games in 1968 for people with intellectual disabilities to compete in 30 Olympic-type summer and winter sports.