I am convinced that the Games will be unforgettable in the minds of the people!
Less than 100 days to go before the start of the Special Olympics World Winter Games in Schladming, Graz and Ramsau am Dachstein. Can you still cope with the stress and excitement?
JÜRGEN WINTER: We are already looking forward to the Games and yes, it is very exciting. Our preparations are well under way but there is still quite a few things to do. Nevertheless, I am convinced that it is a positive kind of stress that we are experiencing and that there is predominantly a positive energy.
Are you still able to sleep well?
WINTER: Of course! In particular, since I have already experienced events of this scale, like the World Championships of Alpine Skiing in 2013. Plus, it is easy to put your mind at ease when you know that the preparations are being taken care of by a capable team.
The preparations have already been going on since 2012, when Austria was designated as host country. What can the country and the people look forward to in March?
WINTER: Austria can look forward to a great party which is above all also a social project. A celebration of the integration of people who do not have such an easy life in our society. Those who will join the event for the first time will notice right away that there is this incredible joy and an overwhelming willpower - and thus there is this absolute fascination that can be felt and sensed. It does not matter whether you participate as athlete, spectator, volunteer or staff, you get so much in return.
The organizational and logistic efforts are enormous. Could you illustrate this with some figures?
WINTER: First and foremost, 107 nations will participate in the event. Considering the language barriers this is, indeed, a challenge. And bearing in mind that 2,700 athletes, 1,100 coaches, 5,000 family members, 3,000 volunteers and many thousands more will come together on this occasion, you can imagine how substantial and extensive the tasks that need to be tackled are.
These are figures that will be positively reflected in the Austrian economy, won’t they?
WINTER: In 2017 the World Winter Games will be, by far, the largest event in Austria. As such, they will definitely generate a certain number of visits and a certain business volume. The number of overnight stays in Styria will clearly be exceptional in March, and television broadcasts will go around the world. However, I am convinced that the World Winter Games will be memorized above all as unique social project.
Personally, what are you looking forward to in the context of the Games?
WINTER: I am looking forward to the honesty, openness and cordiality of the people that are beyond compare. In the individual encounters with people who are intellectually handicapped you become aware how open and unbiased these people approach you. For someone like me who holds a political office this is not always a given. In these encounters you learn what really matters in life. Things are put in perspective and it makes you completely happy.
In generally, how well are intellectually handicapped people accepted by our society? Already in 1993 the Special Olympics World Winter Games took place in Austria. Have some things changed in the population’s attitude since then?
WINTER: When Austria hosted the Games for the first time in 1993, the idea definitely did not meet with unanimous consent. Quite the contrary, sometimes you could even hear statements like: “What do we want with these half-wits?” But, and that is the truly wonderful aspect about it, the people – even though they were already used to all sorts of big events that have forever taken place in the region – recognized that this event was a true opportunity to show a human face. And they seized the opportunity. The flame of hope, this flame of warmth, has made a difference, not only in the region but all over Austria and even beyond, in Europe.
Only a few months to go before the start of the Games, what do your days look like at the moment?
WINTER: Well, in my current position as President and as Vice-President before, one of my tasks is to assess the financial needs and to ensure appropriate funding so that the Games can be implemented in the best possible way. This has been my focus to date. However, there is still a lot to do. I am convinced that the weeks and months until the start of the Games will just fly by. And the result will be worth every effort.
Speaking of you new position as President, the death of the original President of Special Olympics Austria, Hermann Kröll, has left an enormous gap. How do you as his successor close this gap?
WINTER: I had many ties with Hermann Kröll on many levels: political, private, the Special Olympics, and many more. In many encounters we discovered that we shared many points of view. However, Hermann Kröll cannot be easily replaced. I can only try to match the distinct quality of Hermann Kröll in carrying on the idea of the Special Olympics movement in Austria and beyond its borders. It is our task to continue the work in his spirit. With his efforts he has achieved incredible things – in many areas. For him it was not work, he lived the idea. He did not hug an athlete because it was the correct thing to do in the moment, but because he always had the right feel for people and always met them at eye level.
If you had one wish regarding the Winter Games, what would that be?
WINTER: Besides the wish that the event should pass without any accidents of any of the participants, my wish is: that every single person on site should go home with the feeling of having experienced something special. Everybody, athlete, spectator, volunteer, helper or family member, everybody should realize that we are the only obstacles in our lives and that this would not be the case if only we would believe in ourselves and be courageous enough to just try to give our best. The aim is also to give intellectually handicapped people all over the world the feeling that they are part of our society, that they are not at the edge but right at the heart.