The Special Olympics began with Australian athlete, Geoffrey Kirby, lighting the cauldron.

Over 2000 athletes from 29 countries are taking  part in this inaugural event that is being staged in Newcastle until December 7.

There are nine sports competitions including athletes, aquatics, badminton, basketball, bocce, cricket, football, table tennis and ten pin bowling.

A key initiative at Special Olympics is the Healthy Athlete Program, designed to encourage better healthcare and lifestyle choices for athletes. Volunteer health professionals will administer free health screenings and services at major competitions.  There will be four key areas in the program: Healthy Hearing, Health Promotion, Opening Eyes and Special Smiles.

Photo Credit: Newcastle Sundance: Peter Neville