Sven Albrecht is the Federal Managing Director of Special Olympics Germany and was responsible for the World Games, which took place in Berlin from 17 to 25 June 2023. The event is still fondly remembered by many. In this interview, he talks about the success of the Special Olympics World Games and the impetus required for a prospective Olympic bid.
Hello, Sven. You are the Federal Managing Director of Special Olympics Germany and were responsible for the Special Olympics World Games in Berlin this summer. What was a particular highlight for you?
It’s quite difficult to name one specific thing. There were far too many defining moments that shaped those Games. I am, however, extremely pleased that we were able to fulfill the needs of our athletes, in particular, and to move the entire country. The extraordinary athleticism of our athletes was finally seen and appreciated. The Special Olympics World Games had never been staged in front of such a large audience. The media alliance created an unprecedented level of public awareness. One particularly emotional moment for me was when the more than 170 delegations entered the Olympic Stadium. Given the history of the stadium, a clearer expression of humanity and inclusion could not have been made. Our motto, #UnbeatableTogether, was palpable for everyone at that moment.
The Special Olympics are the largest inclusive sports event in the world. One of the aims is to break down the barriers between people with and without disabilities. How far have we come in that regard, both in sports as well as in society?
Both globally and domestically, we are still in the early stages. Only 8% of people with intellectual disabilities have access to sports. In order for more inclusion in sports to be achieved, the support of the sports family is greatly needed. The prerequisites include accessibility, the framework conditions laid out in the German Federal Participation Act, such as the assistance services required, municipal networks, and educational opportunities for coaches, among other things. That was why it was so important for us to involve over 216 municipalities in the Host Town Program – to ensure that the conditions for participation could be established locally. In society as a whole, many more encounters are necessary to break down mental barriers, in particular. Sports provide excellent opportunities to do just that. I sincerely hope that the World Games will make a lasting contribution to raising awareness of the opportunities that inclusion offers us all.
Let’s assume that the Olympics will be held in Germany again. From your point of view, how would the Games have to be organized in order to ensure that they are as inclusive as possible?
I would like to take a broader view here. The World Games that took place in Germany were so successful because the focus was on a social idea right from the start. We successfully managed to unite a great number of people from the most diverse areas behind the goal and, above all, to involve the entire country. I am firmly convinced that we need to focus on the social power of sports. Of course, that also involves inclusion. Given the fact that we are talking about hosting the Games in 2036 at the earliest, it should by then be a matter of course that the Games be accessible to everyone in all areas and that people with disabilities help shape the Games as staff members of the organizing committee, as helpers, as artists, etc.
The Special Olympics World Games have left a very positive impression on the German capital. Is Berlin ready to host the Olympic and Paralympic Games?
Berlin is a sports city and has a wonderful spectator audience. To this day, people from numerous other countries tell us that they felt so welcome and had never experienced such encouragement from spectators. Berlin has set a new international benchmark thanks to the Special Olympics World Games. Despite the prejudices that sometimes exist, we enjoyed great cooperation with all of those involved as well as from the authorities in the State of Berlin. That prerequisite was an essential component of the successful organization. Berlin can do it. Now, developing and presenting the added value for society beyond the event is the most important thing. The Olympic and Paralympic Games must make a contribution to an overarching idea – in my opinion, that is the cohesion of society. The attention generated by events helps speed up the implementation of the necessary measures. Berlin has a unique approach in that respect, in which major sports events must provide impetus for urban development in a wide variety of fields. Those are all the best conditions under which sports can be strengthened in our society.
The DOSB’s “YOUR BERLIN. YOUR CITY. YOUR DIALOG.” dialog forum is scheduled to take place at the Futurium in Berlin on 12 November. What expectations do you have of the event?
I hope that as many people as possible take part in the dialog. It is essential that we get the sports world, and society as a whole, to discuss the associated opportunities and risks. I sometimes get the feeling that opinions are preconceived, which is unfortunate. I would really like to see some measure of openness on all sides and for the process to be given a chance. Ultimately, we are discussing what sports can do for society and to what extent the Olympic and Paralympic Games can be building blocks toward the achievement of those goals, in other words, a sense of togetherness in our society. That concerns all of us. With that in mind, I look forward to the exchange of ideas and to a respectful debate. It will be good for our country as a whole.
Additional information on the dialog forum in Berlin can be found here.