Friday,16 November, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1330, (2 - 8 February 2017)
Friday,16 November, 2018
Issue 1330, (2 - 8 February 2017)

Ahram Weekly

The venue is Abu Dhabi

In Abu Dhabi, Al-Ahram Weekly reports on the official agreement to hold the 2019 Special Olympics World Games in the UAE

from left: Davis, Shriver, Bin Zayed and  Abdel-Wahab (photo: Mustafa Reda)
from left: Davis, Shriver, Bin Zayed and Abdel-Wahab (photo: Mustafa Reda)

Abu Dhabi is to host the 2019 Special Olympics World Games, the region’s first sporting event for athletes with special needs and disabilities.

The deal, made official on Monday 23 January, was signed by Mohamed Al Junaibi, chairman of the UAE Special Olympics organising committee, and Timothy Shriver, chairman of Special Olympics International (SOI). The signing ceremony was attended by Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the UAE Armed Forces Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed.

Joining Shriver were sporting stars, including Michelle Kwan, two-time Olympic medallist figure skater, Sam Perkins, an NBA legend and 1984 Olympics gold medallist, Olympic swimmer Donna De Varona, and celebrated Egyptian actor Hussein Fahmi, a former MENA (Middle East and North Africa) region ambassador who, because of his work in SOI, has now been chosen global ambassador.

“It is a great honour bestowed on me as I will have a chance to increase awareness not only in the region but all around the world of the mentally abled. I promise to do my best and I hope I will add more to the Special Olympics movement,” Fahmi said.

“It is the first time a country from the MENA region hosts a World Summer Games,” MENA president and regional director Ayman Abdel-Wahab, said. “Never before has an Olympics or Paralympics given the Special Olympics movement such priority and also to give Abu Dhabi this pioneering effort is a special honour as it is an event that will gather all the mentally disabled from around the globe. I am very happy and proud of this as it was my dream that goes back 17 years when I took over,” Abdel-Wahab said.

Abdel-Wahab said the organising committee will consider the increase in the number of athletes representing the MENA region as Abu Dhabi is the host and has the right to do so. He said 6,000 family members and friends will participate in the families programme in addition to 2,5000 coaches and delegates as well as 4,000 guests, 20,000 volunteers and 500,000 spectators.

The World Games are held every two years, with the next taking place next year in Austria at the Winter Games. The baton will be handed over to the UAE in March.

“There’s no better or more profound location than Abu Dhabi to invite the world to come together in celebration of sport, in celebration of people of all kinds, and to demonstrate to the world that the lines of division can be erased,” Shriver said in a press conference held at the IPIC Arena at Zayed Sports City. “We are thrilled to be the first fully global multisport games of this size to be staged in the Middle East.” Abu Dhabi will hold the “best Special Olympics ever” and “one of the finest sporting events the world has ever seen,” he said.

“Abu Dhabi is the ideal choice to help bring about true change for millions of people with intellectual disabilities and their families in a strategically important region of the world,” added Shriver. “Selecting the city as host for the Special Olympic World Games in 2019 was an easy choice to make. Both Abu Dhabi and the UAE have made disability a priority, promoting rights for people with intellectual disabilities for more than 20 years, making huge strides in integrating people with intellectual disabilities in the workplace and in schools.

“Special Olympics transforms lives through the joy of sport each and every day, and we believe the Abu Dhabi Games will create lasting impact for the Special Olympics movement, transforming lives and challenging perceptions. We are certain that the city’s exceptional infrastructure, experience in hosting some of the world’s biggest sports events, and the warm welcome from the people of the UAE will make for a memorable event.”

The Special Olympics World Games will be staged at various venues across the city between 14-21 March. The first Games were staged in 1968. This one will involve 22 Olympic-style sports and 7,000 intellectually-challenged athletes representing 170 countries. The competitions will take place in various venues throughout the city including ADNEC, Zayed Sports City, the IPIC Arena and Hazza Bin Zayed Stadium.

Peter Willer, who was appointed by the UAE organising committee as chief executive of the Games, has been involved with the Special Olympics for more than 30 years.

“There’s a number of ways we look at legacy – how we build more year-round sports programmes, recruit more doctors and provide health screenings on a regular basis,” said Wheeler. The week-long Games must affect the community by “changing attitudes” towards those with special needs, he said.

The athletes will be staying at the homes of local hosts for two or three days in Abu Dhabi. “It allows us to get more people engaged and aware of the Special Olympics,” added Wheeler. Having organised Special Olympics events at home in the United States, he has first-hand experience of the joy they can bring. “It allows the nation to celebrate diversity and ability. It allows the chance of success for individuals who otherwise wouldn’t have such opportunities. It’s a tremendous experience for those people participating but also those simply sharing in the experience. Watching such things is nothing but inspiring,” he said.

Proud of the UAE hosting the Games, UAE Minister of State for Federal National Council Affairs Noura bent Mohamed Al-Kaabi said the UAE “has put social inclusion at the core of our national policies for over 20 years. It is an integral part of our culture and values. Hosting this wonderful event in Abu Dhabi reaffirms our commitment to improving the quality of life for people with special needs. It is a materialisation of our relentless efforts to foster greater community engagement and to create widespread awareness around untapped potential of people living with disabilities.

Dina Galal, the MENA region spokeswoman who has competed in two Olympic Games, representing Egypt in table tennis, said: “It is so exciting that the first Olympics in the Middle East will be hosted here in Abu Dhabi. It will raise a lot of awareness in the region, break down stereotypes and give people so much inspiration to show how the human body is incredibly adaptable and capable of achieving great things.”

“We will show the world that Abu Dhabi will have the best Games ever and is the benchmark,” said Majid Al Usaimi, national director of Special Olympics UAE and a member of the Games organising committee. “We will send a clear message to everyone in the world that human beings have equal opportunities in all communities. By integrating people with disabilities with others in the community, we are showing the best example. It will be a big challenge for all of us and we will succeed.”

Al Usaimi said the step “was a dream come true”, and complimented Sheikh Mohamed Bin Zayed on his perseverance in integrating people with special needs and disabilities in mainstream society.

“UAE organisers of the World Games aim to bring about positive changes that will continue into the future. The Games will hope to have long-term effects such as educating youth on social inclusion and improving training for healthcare professionals with people with disabilities,” Al Usaimi added.

Tala Al Ramahi, chief strategy officer for the 2019 Games, said she hoped that schools would raise awareness about people with special needs in their moral education classes. “There are a lot of misconceptions surrounding people with disabilities and that’s one of the things we want to start addressing,” Al Ramahi said. “Of course it starts with schools, but it goes beyond that, into employment and society as a whole as they address these misconceptions.”

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