Friday,22 February, 2019
Current issue | Issue 1361, (21 - 27 September 2017)
Friday,22 February, 2019
Issue 1361, (21 - 27 September 2017)

Ahram Weekly

From big to biggest

Abu Dhabi is working day and night to host the Special Olympics 2018 MENA Games in preparation for the largest event of its kind: the 2019 World Summer Games. Abeer Anwar reports

Abdel-Wahab (r) discussing the preparations for the ninth MENA Games in Abu Dhabi
Abdel-Wahab (r) discussing the preparations for the ninth MENA Games in Abu Dhabi

For the first time in the history of Special Olympics, a World Summer Games comes to a Middle East country after Abu Dhabi was selected to host the event which will be held under the patronage of Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the UAE Armed Forces Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed bin Sultan Al-Nahyan.

Special Olympics is the world’s largest sports organisation for children and adults with intellectual disabilities, providing year-round training and competitions to 5.7 million athletes in 172 countries.

The UAE decided to bid to host the ninth MENA Regional Games that is intended to be a small demo of the biggest games to take place so far, in March 2019. As a result, the MENA Games will be played in 2018 at the same venues as the World Summer Games to give the organisers an advantage.

As a consequence, in the regular organising committee meetings held in Abu Dhabi last week under the supervision of Dr Peter Wheeler, head of the Organising Committee and Ayman Abdel-Wahab, SO MENA president and regional director, it was decided that the 2018 edition of the MENA Games will witness the participation of 1,248 athletes representing 18 countries competing in 15 official sports including speedball which will be a spectator sport before being an official sport in the World Summer Games 2019.

Moreover, 15 countries will be invited to the event in addition to the MENA countries, making it a miniature of the World Summer Games. The format is being applied for the first time in the history of the Special Olympics movement.

The entrants are Canada, Russia, Monaco, Belgium, Austria, Chinese Taipei, Macau, Hong Kong, China, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Samoa, Bangladesh, Cote d’Ivoire and Burkina Faso.

“We are looking forward to welcoming thousands of athletes from across the world to participate in the MENA Regional Games 2018,” said Mohamad Abdulla Al-Junaibi, chairman of the Higher Committee of the Special Olympics World Games.

“This will be the UAE’s first opportunity to spread our message of inclusivity, tolerance and philanthropy. The MENA Regional Games are just the beginning for us as we look to empower our athletes and people of all abilities and disabilities across the UAE and the region,” Al-Junaibi said.  

Athletes will compete in athletics, aquatics, badminton, basketball, bocce, bowling, cycling, equestrian, football, gymnastics, handball, powerlifting, table tennis, tennis, roller skating and volleyball.

Organisers said 184 UAE athletes with learning or cognitive disabilities are gearing up to compete across the 16 sports.

The games are the region’s largest multi-sports event for athletes with intellectual disabilities.

They will take place from 14-23 March 2018. Registration opens this month and closes on 15 November.

The games will also include the Healthy Athletes Programme, 10th Families Forum, Young Athletes Demonstration and the eighth Youth Summit.

Flavia Fontes, head of the volunteers at the Organising Committee, said the number of volunteers had reached 90,000, “a huge number who will be giving a helping hand in both the regional and World Summer Games”.

Dr Dreck Richter, head of the Healthy Athlete Programme, said all the participants will be given a physical check-up during the competition and that a number of clinics will be opened all around the host venues.

Attendees had a chance to visit all the venues that will host the events under the guidance of Mary Marseille, head of the Venues Committee at the games, including ADNEC Hall for basketball and other venues chosen near each other to make it easier for the athletes to get to their destinations.

Abdel-Wahab said Abu Dhabi “is writing a new history by hosting such two main events for Special Olympics and it is working hard on changing the overview of the mentally disabled all around the region and the world”.

“The games will also be celebrating the 50th anniversary of the Special Olympics movement that was pioneered by Eunice Kennedy Shriver which gave hope to such athletes. It also comes as part of the UAE 2021 vision which reinforces the inclusion of the mentally disabled in the society to practise their normal life and daily routines easily,” Abdel-Wahab added.

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