Sunday,21 April, 2019
Current issue | Issue 1381, (15 - 21 February 2018)
Sunday,21 April, 2019
Issue 1381, (15 - 21 February 2018)

Ahram Weekly

Seven wonders

Over 160 athletes with intellectual disabilities will visit one of the seven emirates of the UAE for an all-inclusive experience, reports Abeer Anwar


The LOC together with Abdel-Wahab at the press conference

The Local Organising Committee (LOC) of the 2018 Special Olympics IX MENA Games, in partnership with the UAE Ministry of Community Development, has announced the launch of the Host Town Programme across all seven emirates.

Over 160 athletes with intellectual disabilities will visit one of the seven emirates to live, eat and breathe true Emirati life.

From Burkina Faso, Cote d’Ivoire, Canada, Philippines, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Hong Kong, Macau, Chinese Taipei, Monaco, Belgium, Russia and Austria in addition to Special Olympics Middle East and MENA athletes, Abu Dhabi will be the first city ever to host both the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) and World Games within a year of each other. Over 1,200 athletes of all abilities will descend upon Abu Dhabi from 14 to 22 March this year to take part in the Special Olympics IX MENA Games.

Athletes will participate in 16 sports hosted in eight venues including ADNEC, Zayed Sports City, Yas Marina Circuit, NYUAD, Officer’s Club, Mubadala IPC Arena, Al-Jazira Sports Club and Al-Forsan Club.

The MENA Games and World Games are part of the UAE’s National Vision 2021 that highlights the full integration of people with disabilities into society. The games will be the most unified in history and promise to offer an inclusive experience for those with and without intellectual disabilities.

At a press conference held in Abu Dhabi last week, Minister of Community Development Hessa bint Essa Buhumaid expressed her deep appreciation for the support provided by the officials in the seven emirates. “It is a great opportunity to host the world’s largest humanitarian sports event in Abu Dhabi. This reflects our values and efforts to promote the integration of people of determination into the community and is a reflection of the UAE’s efforts to support global trends addressing the difficulties they face in their lives,” Buhumaid said.

Special Olympics MENA President and Managing Director Ayman Abdel-Wahab thanked the supporters and organisers of the initiative and commended the efforts exerted in coordinating all stakeholders to support Host Town. The new initiative aims to give athletes participating in the Special Olympics the opportunity to learn more about UAE culture, customs and traditions. “We hope to change perceptions of people of determination and show that they can excel in many aspects of life through sports,” Abdel-Wahab said.

Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed with a Special Olympics athlete at the Walk Unified initiative

Mohamed Abdullah Al-Junaibi, chairman of the Higher Committee of both events, said Host Town “reflects the hospitality and values of the Emirati nation and we look forward to providing the opportunity for all participants and their families to learn more about the true essence of the UAE and its supreme values of unity, tolerance and co-existence, in addition to promoting solidarity amongst all members of society”.

The programme will host delegations of athletes, their coaches and families, and allow them to experience the rich culture and history of the UAE ahead of their participation in the games next month. The Special Olympics World Games in Abu Dhabi is in 2019 from 14-21 March. The Host Town Programme will include visits to tourist sites across the seven emirates of the UAE in addition to providing workshops and speaker opportunities for athletes to share their stories with students.

The visiting athletes will go to schools and local families, sightsee and participate in a torch ceremony in each city as the Special Olympics Flame of Hope travels across the UAE before making its way to the opening ceremony at Yas Marina Circuit on 17 March.

Peter Wheeler, CEO of Special Olympics World Games Abu Dhabi 2019, said: “The Host Town Programme launch is about creating a powerful cross-cultural exchange programme for citizens and residents of the UAE to meet the special-needs athletes around the world.”

Wheeler said each delegation, including athletes, their coaches and families will be assigned to an emirate. For instance, a team from Russia will go to Ras Al-Khaimah and that from Austria may go to Al-Ain.

Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the UAE Armed Forces Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed Al-Nahyan, and Dubai Crown Prince Sheikh Hamdan bin Mohamed bin Rashid Al-Maktoum joined thousands of citizens in the ‘Walk Unified’ initiative at Umm Al-Emarat Park in Abu Dhabi, officially launching the first Unified Walk event, which will become a weekly feature in Abu Dhabi that will take place every Friday leading up to the 2018 Special Olympics. The event aims to promote wider inclusion, widespread community understanding, acceptance and encouragement of a healthy lifestyle for people with and without intellectual disabilities and to urge the community to participate in voluntary work.

Sheikh Mohamed expressed his happiness at joining people of determination, volunteers and the public in such a remarkable initiative, which encourages people to take to sport as a lifestyle. He noted that the initiative is a call to the community that sport brings together people in harmony and health. Sheikh Mohamed also expressed his happiness at the participation of volunteers for various events.

“Volunteering is a civilised value and a human instinct that reflects the essence of the human being, his benevolence and love for philanthropy for the benefit of others,” Abu Dhabi’s crown prince said. “Thankfully, this instinct is deeply rooted in UAE society, on which our children have been raised and we seek to consolidate and regulate it through national projects and initiatives. Henceforth, the Unified Walk initiative calls for solidarity, love and urges everyone to participate and volunteer,”

Sheikh Nahyan bin Zayed Al-Nahyan, chairman of the board of trustees of the Zayed bin Sultan Al-Nahyan Charitable and Humanitarian Foundation and chairman of the Abu Dhabi Sports Council; Sheikh Khaled bin Mohamed bin Zayed Al-Nahyan; Sheikh Diab bin Mohamed bin Zayed Al-Nahyan, chairman of Abu Dhabi Department of Transport; and Sheikha Al-Jalila bint Mohamed bin Rashed Al-Maktoum, as well as other sheikhs and senior officials attended the occasion.

Abdel-Wahab said that having such support from the crown prince of Abu Dhabi and other top officials “makes me sure that the IX MENA Games will be a success story that will be told to future generations across all decades. It gives a great push to the Special Olympics movement and to our athletes all around the world. I am very eager to attend the games and watch the dream become reality.”

The MENA region is also holding a number of training sessions for families in preparation for the SO MENA IX Games, including the Special Olympics MENA Regional Family Leadership Workshop which took place in Cairo. Nineteen family members participated in the workshop representing Bahrain, Morocco, Tunisia, Jordan, Palestine, Lebanon, Syria, Algeria and Egypt.

The families shared their experiences and spoke about the challenges they face in the community. Equipped with new information, they left the workshop energised and dedicated to extend their support to new families, and to grow a community that values acceptance and respect.

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