Wednesday,19 June, 2019
Current issue | Issue 1387, (29 March - 4 April 2018)
Wednesday,19 June, 2019
Issue 1387, (29 March - 4 April 2018)

Ahram Weekly

Victory for inclusion

Egypt was victorious at the 2018 Special Olympics MENA IX Regional Games in Abu Dhabi. Inas Mazhar reports from the UAE capital on a tournament that highlighted equality


Egypt’s players celebrate winning the basketball gold medal

What an achievement. With 95 medals, the young Pharaohs took Egypt’s most medals from a Special Olympics Middle East and North Africa Regional Games since 1999.

The Egyptians earned it. The 115 male and female Special Olympians dedicated their victory to the country’s head of state and are looking to meeting him in person as they expect President Al-Sisi to honour the whole delegation, as he did in 2014 for winning the Regional Games which were held in Cairo and the winners at the World Winter Games in Austria 2017.

The UAE champions also dedicated their medals to their teammate Mazen Al-Samahi who passed away days before the event started.

The 95 medals included 51 gold, 23 silver and 21 bronze medals from 16 sports.

There were unforgettable moments for the Egyptians in Abu Dhabi, especially the epic basketball final between Egypt and the UAE. After a thrilling game, the Egyptians managed to win 21-16. The game was attended by MENA Regional Managing Director Ayman Abdel-Wahab and SOI Ambassador actor Hussein Fahmi. Both were keen to watch the match and congratulate the winners on their success.

Abdel-Wahab was the happiest of all officials with the huge success of the MENA Games which come a year before the World Summer Games which will also be held in Abu Dhabi in 2019.


“We are really glad with the high level of performance of all the athletes. All the different programmes of the region have shown great and obvious progress. The results which were achieved here in the Regional Games prove that the MENA region is getting stronger and bigger every year. The number of participants has doubled which reflects the tough and real work that is being done in the region. We should all congratulate ourselves for these achievements which came because of the power, will and determination of the athletes of the region,” Abdel-Wahab told Al-Ahram Weekly.

“In terms of organisation, we have to congratulate our hosts for a superb and spectacular event. They were up to the challenge as always and they have made us all certain that they will also produce another remarkable and exciting World Summer Games next year,” he added.

More than 1,000 athletes from 32 countries took part in the MENA IX Games, the first major sporting event ahead of Special Olympics World Games Abu Dhabi 2019.

SOI Chairman Timothy Shriver also praised Abu Dhabi for hosting the MENA Games and the World Summer Games the following year. “We are glad we voted for Abu Dhabi to host the World Summer Games. Here’s the thing: there has never been an Olympic event in the Middle East region ever of a worldwide nature, so we are coming here to make history. We are here to affirm and confirm that in this region there are governments who are open, tolerant and compassionate to the values of empathy and show respect for difference and inclusion. Those are the values in Abu Dhabi. We are here as a global movement to join the Abu Dhabi government in sending a message of the values of the Middle East, not of Latin America or Europe, but only of the Middle East, sending a message that Middle East government leaders can join in building inclusive countries and events and this is of big importance and additional value for the games,” Shriver said.

Shriver told the Weekly that SOI has a strategy of encouraging all athletes and programmes to be at their best. “Here is the good news. We don’t do comparisons among the different programmes. Our movement with the sport is that we don’t compare you to me. We don’t have a chart that says who’s on top. We have no rankings or seedings. We don’t have that because we don’t do it that way, because we ultimately think what is really helpful is to be the best they can be. We set up higher numbers of athletes than the last decade or two, confronted by the instability in some of the region’s countries being in war. It is very difficult in Syria, Libya and Iraq, it was hard to grow and improve but I think that despite that, today we see Syria here with a big delegation. It is really amazing to see that the contribution of the Middle East region to our movement is the contribution of government leaders because many have operated in situations that have been very difficult and yet they continued to improve what they are doing.” However, Shriver added that “we have a long way to go in the quality in all regions, not only in Middle East”.

Abdel-Wahab and Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed

During his visit, Shriver also talked with Egypt’s Minister of Social Solidarity Ghada Wali about the participation of women and girls in sport. “We believe that Special Olympics is leading globally when it comes to participation of women and girls,” Shriver said. “I haven’t seen the numbers of 2017, yet 40 per cent of women and girls practise sports. For a multisport movement like ours, it is the best, but 50-50 is what it should be, not 30-70, not 40-60. Half is good enough. Nothing less is good enough. So we talked about this and we talked about encouraging women and girls who are excluded like in football which is considered in some countries a men’s sport while in other countries it is okay. It should be everywhere and we want Egypt to lead in the area. Sometimes Special Olympics should be available to everyone not only for those who can afford to pay for their transportation or are members of clubs or institutions; it should be available to everyone. It should not cost anyone anything. Even families should not pay for their children. The importance is including those who have the least resources to our activities. Then we talked about the good things in Egypt now, with such a great team and the participation of a 160-man delegation including 115 athletes altogether.”

As SOI movement celebrates its 50th anniversary, Shriver believes the next 50 years will be all about inclusion. “The first 50 years have been about opportunity, skills and sport and the next years about all those things and inclusion, so instead of focusing on the people with disabilities in the world and about building the world for them, we will focus on the whole world. You will enjoy Special Olympics in the next 50 years,” Shriver predicted.

One of the successful events that took place during the Games was when medical professionals carried out almost 3,000 screenings for a range of health conditions as part of the Healthy Athletes programme.

A total of 913 people with intellectual disabilities, 500 of whom are Special Olympics athletes from across the 32 countries taking part in this year’s games in the UAE capital were treated for dental, vision and podiatry-related issues, among others, over the duration of the games.

Health Programmes Manager for the Special Olympics MENA region Leila Al-Shennawi said: “For me, health is the most important programme of the Special Olympics and one of the most important in the world. Healthy Athletes is able to help so many people who otherwise might not get the treatment and care they need. Often times the athletes come to us suffering with a pain, discomfort or condition that they have never had treated. Sometimes they have learned to live with the pain and just get on with their lives. We are able to make a big difference not only during their time at the games but also their future lives.”

Over the course of the games, Healthy Hearing has been providing athletes with essential hearing aids and Opening Eyes was providing eye glasses.

“The frames and lens for the glasses are made onsite at ADNEC within two hours,” Al-Shennawi said. “It is very quick and makes a big difference. If the athlete’s lens prescription can’t be made here, they will receive their new glasses before they return to their home country.”

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