Monday,18 February, 2019
Current issue | Issue 1385, (15 - 21 March 2018)
Monday,18 February, 2019
Issue 1385, (15 - 21 March 2018)

Ahram Weekly

People of purpose

Abu Dhabi is to receive 1,000 Special Olympics athletes from 31 Middle East and North Africa countries as they compete in the region’s MENA IX Games

Special Olympics athletes celebrate before the opening of the Games

The Middle East and North Africa Special Olympics Games will be the first major sporting event in the United Arab Emirates ahead of the 2019 Special Olympics World Games, also in Abu Dhabi, reports Inas Mazhar. In the MENA Games, athletes will take part in 16 sports hosted in eight venues.

The opening ceremony of the IX MENA Games is on Saturday 17 March at Abu Dhabi National Exhibition Centre where thousands of athletes and spectators will see the lighting of the Olympic Torch.

Members of the UAE’s Special Olympics Athletes and team members from the local organising committee made the number ‘10’ at the Walk Unified event held every Friday at Umm Al-Emarat Park, to mark the final countdown.

Members of the public can walk in and watch the games from 18-20 March at ADNEC, NYUAD, Zayed Sports City, Yas Marina Circuit, Officer’s Club, Mubadala IPC Arena, Al Jazira Sports Club and Al Forsan Club.

Athletes will take part in athletics, badminton, basketball, bocce, bowling, cycling, equestrian, football, gymnastics, handball, power lifting, roller skating, swimming, table tennis, tennis and volleyball.

Special Olympics IX MENA Games and Special Olympics World Games Abu Dhabi 2019 are part of the UAE’s National Vision 2021 that highlights full integration of people of determination into everyday society. The SO World Games will be the most unified games in history and promise to offer an inclusive experience for those with and without intellectual disabilities.

Egyptian athletes getting ready for the competitions to begin

Held under the patronage of Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the UAE Armed Forces Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed Al-Nahyan, Abu Dhabi 2019 will see the biggest humanitarian sporting event in the world coming to the Emirati capital, marking a history-making debut in the MENA region.

And, for the first time ever, the 2018 Special Olympics IX MENA Games will welcome a record number of female participants. The UAE will see 429 female athletes and 168 female trainers from 31 countries participating in 16 sports throughout the games, representing 40 per cent of the athletes.

Host UAE will comprise 180 athletes, with 64 (36 per cent) of those being female. Women will participate in all the sports, including athletics, swimming, badminton, basketball, bocce, bowling, cycling, equestrian, football, gymnastics, power lifting, tennis, table tennis, roller skating, handball and volleyball.

The MENA region has witnessed a huge number of female participants in regional Special Olympics Games. In the seventh edition in 2010, Damascus saw 305 female players take part while 215 female players attended the eighth edition in Cairo.

The breakdown of females participating in this edition of the regional games: athletics: 70; swimming: 44; badminton: 32; basketball: 90; bocce: 34; bowling: 25; cycling: 27; roller skating: 17; tennis: 15; table tennis: 28; power lifting: 18; gymnastics: one and equestrian: 13.

Emirati Women’s National Football Team coach Houriya Taheri is the first Arab female to receive a professional coaching licence. Taheri recently became an ambassador for the 2019 Special Olympics. “I learnt about Special Olympics when the MENA team asked me to play in Egypt with players with intellectual disabilities. I went and had no idea what kind of disabilities they had but it was a new and amazing experience. Now that Special Olympics is coming to Abu Dhabi, we all need to understand the importance of getting involved. As a developed country, everyone should be behind this. People with intellectual disabilities are achieving so much and they should be recognised and supported. We as women have this beautiful opportunity to play for our country and for ourselves. Despite all the stereotypes and old family traditions, we can still be part of positive change,” Taheri said.

Egyptian athlete

Days before the launch, a memorandum of understanding (MoU) to support Abu Dhabi’s Special Olympics IX MENA Games of 2018 was signed by three parties at the headquarters of Zayed Higher Organisation for Humanitarian Care and Special Needs.

The tripartite MoU was signed by Zayed Higher Organisation for Humanitarian Care and Special Needs, represented by Abdullah Al-Humaidan, its secretary-general; Social Security Fund for the employees of the Ministry of Interior, represented by Ahmed Mohamed Buharoon Al-Shamsi, the general manager; and the Higher Committee of Special Olympics World Games Abu Dhabi 2019, represented by director of the General of the Department of Culture and Tourism in Abu Dhabi and a member of the Higher Committee of Abu Dhabi 2019 Saif Said Ghobash,

The memorandum is the latest in a number of mutual agreements between the Higher Committee of the Special Olympics World Games Abu Dhabi 2019 and various UAE institutions working to create greater inclusion for people with intellectual disabilities and implement objectives to help achieve well-being within society.

The MoU will also provide a number of Zayed cards from the Fazaa Programme to Special Olympics athletes. Fazaa is a social initiative which aims to develop social interdependence and maintain effective bonds of solidarity within the UAE community.

Al-Shamsi said the MoU provides 145 free memberships for the organising committee and Special Olympics UAE staff. It will also provide 1,000 free memberships for athletes and participants in the games, and that the directors of World Special Olympics Games 2019 will also receive 15 honorary Fazaa cards.

Al-Humaidan said in a press statement that Sheikh Khaled bin Zayed Al-Nahyan, chairman of Zayed Higher Foundation for Humanitarian Care, is keen to launch and implement a number of initiatives aimed at providing the highest quality and distinguished services for affiliated stakeholders in accordance with best international practices.

Ghobash praised the MoU. “This MoU is a continuation of the series of agreements signed by the Local Organising Committee ahead of hosting Special Olympics World Games Abu Dhabi 2019. The signings with various institutions operating in the country give the Committee real momentum and the sponsorship of various institutions of the state concerned with them, the Zayed Foundation for Humanitarian Care and people with special needs, and the social solidarity fund for employees of the Ministry of Interior.”

Two weeks before the competition starts, four Special Olympics athletes from Egypt and Saudi Arabia got the chance to participate in a triathlon-coaching clinic with elite triathletes Omar Nour and Andrea Hewitt at the International Triathlon Centre ITU.

Omar Barakat, Ahmed Morsi and Ahmed Mohamed from Egypt and Thamer Ahmed from Saudi Arabia all participated in the coaching clinic at the ITU World Triathlon Abu Dhabi at Yas Marina Circuit. The four will return to the UAE next year to participate in Abu Dhabi 2019.

UAE-based Egyptian triathlete Nour turned professional eight years ago for the 2010 ITU season and has raced on the ITU Olympic circuit ever since. Having scored Egypt’s first-ever ITU Olympic triathlon points, Nour has trained with the likes of world-renowned coach Neal Henderson, his Apex Coaching Elite Squad based in Boulder, Colorado and Chris Tidey and his Hamilton Aquatics Squad based in Dubai, UAE.

“Running a coaching clinic for these Special Olympic athletes was without a doubt the highlight of my weekend at the ITU World Triathlon Abu Dhabi,” Nour said. “Each one of them brought so much energy, enthusiasm and personality to the session, it blew me away. I truly cannot wait to see these athletes again when they compete in the Special Olympic World Games Abu Dhabi next year. They’ve got real talent and I know they will do their countries proud.”

Kiwi triathlete Hewitt’s first triathlon was in 2005 in New Zealand where she was crowned U-23 world champion. Since then, Hewitt has had a number of significant placings and wins, most recently winning the 2017 ITU World Triathlon Abu Dhabi and being crowned the winner of the 2017 ITU World Triathlon Gold Coast. Andrea is ranked No 4 in the ITU world rankings.

The four athletes also took on 11-year-old Tia and 14-year-old Rio of Team Angel Wolf, Peter Wheeler, CEO of Special Olympics World Games Abu Dhabi 2019 and Gary Marescia, race director of the ITU World Triathlon Abu Dhabi in the Special Olympics category. The competition included a 400m swim, 10km cycling race and a 2.5km run.

Special Olympics is unique to every other Olympic Games and is recognised by the International Olympic Committee (IOC).  To be eligible to participate in the Special Olympics, athletes must have an intellectual disability, a cognitive delay, or a development disability, that is, functional limitations in both general learning and adaptive skills. They may also have a physical disability.

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