Northern Ireland Secretary Peter Hain and Foreign Affairs Minister Dermot Ahern joined organisers at a special ceremony in Belfast Waterfront Hall to herald the £1.7 million (€2.5m) national games in Belfast this June.
Belfast’s Odyssey Complex will host an opening ceremony involving 2,000athletes with learning disabilities, their families and around 500 coaches.
The athletes will compete for glory in 12 sports in venues across Belfast and also in Co Antrim.
But the organisers said they needed 5,500 volunteers to help run the event and want them to sign up early so they can get the appropriate training.
Special Olympics Ireland chairman Fergus Finlay told a ceremony involving athletes from all corners of the country that Belfast would prove an excellent host city.
“Ever since the Special Olympic World Games were staged in Dublin, it has been our ambition to hold a very significant national event in Belfast for a number of reasons.
“Belfast is a vibrant city and has incredible sporting facilities. This is the most exciting event we have ever run and we are relying on the warmth, generosity and the commitment to sport of the people of Northern Ireland,” he said.
During a ceremony co-hosted by UTV’s Gerry Kelly and RTÉ sports broadcaster Des Cahill, there were appearances by Ulster and Ireland rugby star David Humphreys, X Factor star Tabby and singer songwriter Juliet Turner.
Goodwill messages were also relayed by video from a number of celebrities including The Corrs, Brian Kennedy, Phil Coulter, former world champion athlete Eamonn Coughlan and ex-Irish rugby international Keith Wood.
The Special Olympics torch - The Flame of Hope - was carried into the auditorium by the Assistant Chief Constable of the PSNI, Duncan McCausland, and by the Deputy Commissioner of An Garda Siochána, Peter Fitzgerald.
People wishing to volunteer were urged to register online at a website, 2006Games-belfast.com.