Monday,27 May, 2019
Current issue | Issue 1409, (13-19 September 2018)
Monday,27 May, 2019
Issue 1409, (13-19 September 2018)

Ahram Weekly

Hand-in-hand hosts

Special Olympics will make the UAE’s two most famous cities even better known, reports Abeer Anwar 


The 2019 Special Olympics World Games will be hosted in Abu Dhabi, in the United Arab Emirates, for the first time in the Middle East and North Africa region since the movement’s founding over 50 years ago. Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed, Abu Dhabi crown prince, led the winning bid with a mission to promote positive social change for people with intellectual disabilities and create a more inclusive society. But there is another recent big piece of news: Dubai will co-host the 2019 Special Olympics World Summer Games, again for the first time in the history of the Special Olympics movement. “As always being the pioneers,” said Ayman Abdel-Wahab, SO MENA president and regional managing director, referring to Dubai at MENA’s semi-annual meeting which was held recently in Cairo to discuss plans for the Abu Dhabi World Games.

Dubai Crown Prince Sheikh Mohamed bin Hamdan bin Rashed Al-Maktoum offered to co-host the games, while the Local Organising Committee (an entity independent of Special Olympics UAE) was formed in 2017 to prepare for the 2019 Special Olympics World Games Abu Dhabi.

From 14-23 March next year Abu Dhabi will host almost all sports except for two that will be hosted by neighbouring city Dubai: swimming and track and field. Five of the seven emirates which make up the UAE will also take part in the big event as host cities, giving the chance for participants to get an idea about UAE traditions and civilisation.

“After Abu Dhabi successfully hosted the 2018 IX MENA Games, many cities had a growing interest in taking part in the World Summer Games after the people’s awareness increased,” Abdel-Wahab said.

Special Olympics is the world’s largest sports organisation for children and adults with intellectual disabilities, providing year-round training and competitions to five million athletes. It’s the world’s largest humanitarian sporting event and a global movement which focuses on the empowerment of people of determination with intellectual disabilities through the power of sport.

MENA officials at the meeting

The games are held under the patronage of Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed Al-Nahyan whose leadership and vision have been instrumental in bringing together public and private sector partners to be a part of this worthy cause. Over 7,000 athletes from over 170 countries will be going to the UAE to compete in 24 sports, along with 2,500 coaches and 20,000 volunteers, and participate in a variety of initiatives and activities held across the seven emirates.

The 2019 World Games kick off with a star-studded opening ceremony in the iconic Zayed Sports City Stadium in the heart of Abu Dhabi, the largest sports venue in the Arabian Gulf. In addition to sports, the 2019 World Games will feature inspiring non-sports activities and programs, including Unified Sports experiences, free Healthy Athletes screenings, a GenUin Global Youth Summit, and the Law Enforcement Torch Run.

Abdel-Wahab said that for the first time, SO MENA will send the biggest delegation with 1,600 participants, 1,100 of whom are athletes.

“This time we have priority as a region as we are the hosts. In previous summer games we were only allowed 500 athletes so this is an excellent opportunity for our MENA athletes to compete in various sports.” Abdel-Wahab added that 24 sports comprise the summer games while that of Los Angeles had only 19 sports.  

He said the number of SO athletes around the world had reached 6.5 million; 170,000 are from the MENA region which has increased by 13 per cent for the biggest single rise for a region. “Bearing in mind the number of countries in the region that are embroiled in wars and political disruption, I think that we are doing our best. If our programmes in such countries are stable and work regularly we will be able to add thousands more athletes to the movement.”

Special Olympics Egypt will take part in the Games with 103 participants, 72 of which are athletes in aquatics, track and field, badminton, unified basketball (women), bocce, bowling, cycling, equestrian, five-aside football unified team, technical gymnastics, weightlifting, table tennis, tennis and roller skating.

Meanwhile, SO MENA announced its calendar for 2018-2019. It will take part in the Youth Leadership Summit in Baku, Azerbaijan, next week. Abu Dhabi will host the Special Olympics Executive Committee meetings from 1-5 October. The SO MENA programmes meeting from 19-21 October is a training tournament for healthy athletes programme in Manama, Bahrain. Abu Dhabi will also host the head of delegation conference from 29-31 October. From 6-8 November is the regional training tournament for head coaches of sports. From 11-16 November the Dominican Republic will host the special board of members meetings in addition to the Leadership Programme conference for athletes and the first Tennis World Cup.

Cairo will play host to a number of events starting with regional training for coaches in cycling, yachting and triathlon. From 4-8 December will be the first ever regional athletes brothers conference, and 10-14 December is the regional training tournament for the Connect Programme. A regional training tournament for gymnastics, skiing and equestrian is from 17-20 December, followed by regional training for handball, volleyball and judo from 24-27 December.

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