Thursday,21 February, 2019
Current issue | Issue 1331, (9 - 15 February 2017)
Thursday,21 February, 2019
Issue 1331, (9 - 15 February 2017)

Ahram Weekly

What they said

Al-Ahram Weekly held a number of exclusive interviews

At a time when the Middle East is suffering from political instability, Tim Shriver, chairman of Special Olympics, was asked how the Games were granted to Abu Dhabi.

“There is a bigger story in the Arab world than violence and conflict. It is a region of compassion. We are about to celebrate our 50th anniversary so it is time for us to reinvent our movement so that 100 million tons of people can feel they are part of our movement who can build the infrastructure creatively, conceptually, and technologically, that will take our message to the millions in the coming 50 years. When we looked at that question then we have no competition with Abu Dhabi, frankly. Wonderful cities, good infrastructure, strong volunteer basis, creative pioneer ideas and the highest level skills which will build a new business vision for our movement around the Games. That was distinctive here so it was not a very difficult decision for our board when it came to Abu Dhabi.”

One of the Special Olympics ambassadors around the world and a big fan of the movement internationally is Samuel “Sam” Perkins, the retired American professional NBA basketball player. Born in 1961, he won a gold medal with the US national team at the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics.

Known by the nicknames “Sleepy Sam” and “Big Smooth”, Perkins attended Samuel J. Tilden High School, Shaker High School and the University of North Carolina, where he was a teammate of future Hall of Famers James Worthy and Michael Jordan. He was also a member of the 1982 NCAA Tournament championship winning Tar Heel squad. He was selected the fourth pick of the 1984 NBA draft by the Dallas Mavericks and played in the NBA from 1984 to 2001.


In 2008, Perkins was named vice president of player relations for the Indiana Pacers, for whom he played from 1999-2001. In September 2008, Perkins was inducted into the New York City Basketball Hall of Fame along with NBA stars Kenny Anderson and Rod Strickland, coach Pete Gillen and pioneers Lou Bender and Eddie Younger.

Perkins has been involved with Special Olympics since college, in 1986. “My coach at the time was very humanitarian and he thought that we as players should do something different. I did not know anything about SO at the time but we were sending money to some children overseas so when we went to a SO event and I met one of my friends at the old school -- he was a track player joining in the event and he used to beat me in running races -- this is how I joined with SO through him. It has been 30 years since then and I always take my place with the athletes as I join in the unified sports events in almost all SO Olympics Games, winter and summer. I enjoy that and I think unified sports are the best thing that has ever happened and it shows that people with and without intellectual disabilities can join each other and live peacefully together. I think there is no difference between both players.”

Perkins added that he was very happy to be invited to Abu Dhabi. “I am very much impressed with all the preparations done to host the Games. I think it will be one of the best Games but you have to come and cheer me and the other athletes in our unified games.”

In October 2011, Perkins traveled to South Sudan as a Sports United sports envoy for the US Department of State. In this function, he worked with former NBA star Dikembe Mutombo to lead a series of basketball clinics and team building exercises with 50 youth and 36 coaches. This helped contribute to the State Department’s mission to remove barriers and create a world in which individuals with disabilities enjoy dignity and full inclusion in society.

Mary Davis is CEO of Special Olympics International. She started with Special Olympics soon after college as a local programme volunteer and coach. Davis has served in a series of leadership roles, helping create the first-ever regional games, the 1985 Special Olympics European Games, working to build a powerful national programme as CEO of Special Olympics Ireland, and helping globalise the movement as CEO of the first Special Olympics World Summer Games held outside the US in 2003 in Ireland. She became national director of Special Olympics Ireland in 1989 and served as events director for the 1985 European Special Olympics Games in Dublin. Davis has been appointed to many Special Olympics international committees throughout her career and served as chairperson of the International Advisory Committee for four years.


In this role, she leads an international team of more than 200 professionals throughout the world who are addressing inactivity, injustice, intolerance and social isolation by encouraging and empowering people with intellectual disabilities to be productive citizens in their communities, which leads to a more welcoming and inclusive society for all.

On the Abu Dhabi 2019 World Summer Games, Davis told Al-Ahram Weekly that “we are all very excited and we congratulate Abu Dhabi for this victory. Abu Dhabi made it through competing with four other countries but we felt Abu Dhabi had the tolerance and the commitment for inclusion which was very much going with our aim as we wanted people who are tolerant and welcoming to our athletes. We felt that our athletes will be acknowledged for their abilities, respected and recognised for their value and we see that here in Abu Dhabi. Also the facilities in Abu Dhabi are terrific in addition to the infrastructure, transportation, the accommodation and technology. We are going for our next 50 years in our movement. It is important to invade the world and attract social media and highlight our athletes’ achievements to attract more athletes and reach out to players from all over the globe. This is my second visit to Abu Dhabi and every time I come I discover that there is something new and there are more achievements. We will always be around giving a helping hand where needed. It is a great achievement that Peter Wheeler, with his vast experience as head of organising committees of various Games, is a crucial part of the 2019 Abu Dhabi Games.”

As chief and executive producer of Special Olympics 50th anniversary celebrations, Peter Wheeler is responsible for leading the Special Olympics movement’s efforts to commemorate its anniversary in 2018.
Prior to assuming this position, he led Special Olympics’ broadcasting strategy and planning, as well as the legacy effort worldwide around the 2007 World Summer Games in Shanghai. In this role he served as a producer for several broadcast events, including the opening ceremony, Global Family Forum Show, Global Youth Summit and the Special Spirit in China Show.
Wheeler held a variety of senior executive positions within Special Olympics, including executive vice president responsible for leading the campaign for Special Olympics, the movement’s first major fundraising campaign initiative. He was vice president of external affairs. As chief communications officer, he was responsible for leading the global communications strategies. Other leadership roles in the 33 years Wheeler has been involved with Special Olympics include executive director for the Special Olympics World Games in Connecticut in 1995, and programme director of Special Olympics Massachusetts.

“This is my 20th Games. I think that I have seen so many Games and I know what were the drawbacks and how they should be overcome and this is what I am going to do in these Games. I want it to be the best and the gate to a new phase to the Special Olympics movement. With the great support of this country in addition to the enthusiasm of the people here I think we will make the Games a marvelous event in addition to the vision of Aymen [Abdel-Wahab, Middle East and North Africa president and regional director] and leadership of the region. We will be sure that every sport has a leader from the MENA region to make sure that the impact of these Games go on to may years, not only in Abu Dhabi but to the whole world. We have great facilities and venues and strong support from his highness Crown Prince Mohamed Bin Zayed. If we work together hand in hand I think everything will be great. I am excited to bring my vast knowledge to the Games.”

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