ABU DHABI // Abu Dhabi has made official its bid to host the Special Olympics World Games in 2019, which is said to be the first sporting event in the region for athletes with special needs and disabilities.
The official agreement for hosting the Games was signed on Monday at the Sea Palace, and witnessed by Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the Armed Forces. Abu Dhabi had unanimously won the hosting bid in November.
Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Presidential Affairs, and Sheikh Saif bin Zayed, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Interior, and other officials also attended the signing.
Dozens of children with special needs participated in the singing ceremony and expressed excitement for the Games coming to their country. They said it shows how UAE leaders care for people with special needs.
“I have participated in a few previous Special Olympics Games, but now I am highly excited that this is coming to our home in the UAE,” said Mohammed Tajer, a 20-year-old from Dubai who delivered an introductory speech at the event.
“Such games play an important, life-changing role in lives of special-needs children.”
Mariam Al Zaabi, 28, who has mental disabilities, said she was looking forward to the Games and loves running.
“I am happy that so much care is being given to us by our country’s leaders,” said Ms Al Zaabi, who attended the event with her mother, Khadeeja.
“Now that the Special Olympic Games are coming here, more focus will be given to special-needs children. It’s great event and honour for the country to host it,” she said.
The agreement was signed by Mohammed Al Junaibi, chairman of the UAE Special Olympics organising committee, and Dr Timothy Shriver, chairman of Special Olympics International.
“It’s time to embody the ideals of tolerance and compassion all over the world,” Dr Shriver said.
Dr Shriver said that the world does not work without empathy or inclusion, without which parents cannot raise their children. He said the aim is for the Games to be the “greatest sports event” held in the UAE, with implications beyond the world of sports.
“We want to create a turning point for educators all over the world,” Dr Shriver said.
“Why shouldn’t every child with a disability be allowed to play with their peers in schools all over the world? We want to be a catalyst for a policy change and we want to launch a digital revolution.”
The games will feature about 7,000 athletes from 170 countries in with 22 sport events, as well as 20,000 volunteers, an expected 500,000 spectators and 4,000 guests.
The Special Olympics World Games are held every two years and are recognised by the International Olympic Committee. Unlike the Paralympic Games, they are not held in the same year or in conjunction with the Olympic Games.
“It’s like a dream come true,” said Majid Al Usaimi, national director at the Special Olympics UAE. “And behind it is Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed whose keen intention is to include special needs into the mainstream society and education system.”
He said about 8 per cent of the UAE population have disabilities, similarly to other nations.
“We want the world to know that people with disabilities are also able to participate and engage in the society, and they are able to work, do sports and get married as well,” said Mr Al Usaimi, 40, who has used a wheelchair since he contracted polio when he was a year old.
“So they should have equal opportunities and accessible environment.”