Olympic Challenge 

Special Olympics World Games near goal

When Idaho was selected as the site of the 2009 Special Olympics Winter World Games, it was considered a bit of a coup. A small Western state hosting thousands of athletes and their families from around the world—it would be a boon to the economy and Boise's public profile.

Then the reality set in: Organizers had just more than two years to build an infrastructure, raise millions of dollars, find thousands of volunteers and put on world-class games.

The organization has been plagued with problems from the get-go. While some donors jumped to support the cause, the fund-raising effort was more laborious than anticipated. Government-pledged funding seemed shaky at times, and an initially slow response from volunteers had many wondering if Idaho would be able to pull off the event.

Now, just four months from the opening of the games—scheduled for Feb. 7-13—organizers are feeling more confident, but there's still a long way to go, at least financially.

So far, the organizing committee has taken in more than $23 million in cash and value-in-kind donations and have another $4 million in verbal pledges, $3 million of which are in federal appropriations that have already been approved by Congress.

But that still leaves the games roughly $4 million short of its $31- to $32-million goal, according to Bruce Schrepple, chief financial officer for the games. Still, he's optimistic.

"I think we'll get there," he said.

The Idaho games have had only two years to do what most other host cities have four years to complete. Idaho was only awarded the games after Sarajevo withdrew because of political turmoil in Bosnia.

While the fund-raising arm of the games still has some work to do, the volunteer committee has some right to revel. As of Sept. 30, the organization had reached its goal of finding 5,000 volunteers across the three communities that will host events.

After a focused media campaign to recruit volunteers, each of whom must commit to four six- to eight-hour shifts, coordinators saw a rush of last-minute sign ups. Now, would-be volunteers are being added to a reserve list of people willing to step in if some can't make one of their assigned shifts.

While individuals are being generous with their time, Schrepple can't help but wonder how generous they will be with cash, especially considering the current head-spinning economic situation that has everyone watching their pennies.

"The part I don't know is this whole economic environment and if it might have more of an impact than expected," he said. "[But] I'm so pleased where we are now."

So far, Schrepple said he hasn't seen too many cutbacks at the corporate level, at least in terms of giving.

"They're more concerned about their philanthropic level," he said.

Since the beginning, the Idaho World Games has targeted corporate donations over individual, but the hardest selling point is showing businesses how Special Olympics fits with their charitable goals.

Unlike other major events, Special Olympics does not offer high visibility for sponsors who often use such events for national exposure and advertising.

"The numbers aren't big enough for a marketing sponsorship," Schrepple said. "We have to align with their ideals."

So far, roughly $10 million in donations has come from the corporate world, and Schrepple said he plans to continue the concerted drive to raise the remaining $4 million from this arena.

Within the next few weeks, World Game organizers will be announcing another major corporate donation.

The state and federal governments are just slightly ahead of corporate totals when it comes to funding. The State of Idaho has donated $3 million to the games, and when added to the federal allocation, it makes up nearly half of the funds taken in at this point.

"We've had great support from our state government and federal government," Schrepple said. "They really want to make sure that Idaho shines through all of this."

In addition to cash allocated by the State Legislature, state and local agencies will be providing in-kind donations in the form of manpower. The Idaho State Police will be providing security throughout the games, and the Idaho National Guard will be lending the organization communications equipment, tents and fencing, while offering logistical support.

Additionally, both St. Luke's Regional Medical Center and St. Alphonsus Regional Medical Center will offer on-site medical care at all events.

It's that kind of donation of services and goods which Schrepple believes will take the organization over the top in terms of fundraising.

Already the Idaho World Games headquarters is housed free of charge in the old Lithia Ford building on Fairview Avenue, and at this point, all event venues are donating the use of their facilities. This includes the venues for Nordic skiing and snowboarding in Sun Valley and Alpine skiing at Bogus Basin Mountain Resort.

Other venues include snowshoeing in McCall, figure skating at Qwest Arena, speed skating at Idaho Ice World and floor hockey at Expo Idaho. Several events had been scheduled for Tamarack Resort, but because of the ski area's own economic troubles, Games organizers made the decision to avoid the uncertainty and move the events well in advance.

Schrepple is working with food and beverage suppliers and hopes their support could total close to $1 million. Another $2 million in donations could come from the gifts of sporting goods added to the value of the use of the various facilities.

In all, the Idaho games will cost between $6 million and $7 million more than the last Winter World Games held in Nagano, Japan. Schrepple attributes the increase in budget to inflation, as well as the fact that the Nagano games hosted 2,200 athletes, while roughly 3,000 are expected in Idaho.

A final count is due in the middle of the month, when an estimated 113 countries will confirm how many athletes they will be sending in February.

Schrepple said many countries are having to carefully evaluate how many participants will be coming due to the global economic slowdown and increasing cost of travel. Still, organizers are expecting 3,000 family members to join the athletes next year, as well as officials and Special Olympics delegates, bringing a welcome influx of money into Boise and other areas hosting events.

While Schrepple admits that $4 million is still a lot of money to raise, he feels confident that the organization will make the goal and be able to pull off the event without a hitch. But even if the money fails to materialize, there's always a plan B.

"We can make adjustments if we don't make it," Schrepple said.

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